Category Archives: Opinions

My thoughts.

Goodbye, Two Graf Life!

Sometimes, a project fails. Sometimes, it’s completed. And sometimes, a project with no real plan never goes anywhere. That’s what happened to Two Graf Life, a good idea that I never really gave a chance. In its nearly 3 years in existence, I managed to write only 27 posts for it.

So I pulled the plug. I deleted the blog, let the domain name go and moved on – just a few days ago. Now, those 27 posts along with the About page that introduced them are here for you to enjoy.

After all, you deserve more than a one graf life.

About Two Graf Life

Welcome to Two Graf Life, a secret blog project by Gip Plaster. You see, I started this blog without promoting it online or telling anyone about it. So if you’ve found it, I hope you’ll consider yourself lucky. There’s some really interesting stuff here. And if you know me personally and have found it, you’re doing even better.

This is a personal blog cut down to size — without fluff. It’s simple in a way that those bloggers who write 2,000-word posts could never imagine. Every post is just two paragraphs. Why only two paragraphs? That’s plenty of space to address any one issue or comment on any one thing. If I have more to say, I’ll say it another time. My time is valuable and so is yours, so there’s no point going on and on about any topic. When you’ve made your point, it’s time to stop.

The 27 Posts Of Two Graf Life

A First Post That Says It All

April 12, 2016

Maybe I shouldn’t give everything away in the first post, but I’m doing it anyway. This is really a test post to make sure the blog is working right, but lots of things in life are about testing the waters. I’ve created this blog because I’m a forty-something guy who still hasn’t figured out the purpose of my life, and I’m going to explore life’s many purposes here with you — just a couple paragraphs at a time.

Here’s what I know so far: a meaningful life must include people, places and things that feel important. It doesn’t necessarily include travel (as so many bloggers suggest) or a big family (as so many bloggers suggest). But what are the essential components of a good life? What needs to be rejected? And what does it mean when a test post sets such a broad pathway for a blogging project? Let’s find out.

 

Another Blog Nobody Reads

May 3, 2016

Is that really what the world needs? There are thousands — maybe millions — of blogs online that no one reads. Why should I start another? But some blogging projects are more for ordering the minds of the people who create them that for reaching an audience. Still, I suspect people will soon be reading — and commenting, even on old posts like this one that no one saw at first.

There’s something very liberating about writing for no one to read. You’re free to say what you like. I write thousands of words for my writing clients every day, and some of those never get read either. It makes sense that I’d write a few for myself as well — even if they never find an audience. It’s cathartic if nothing else. Besides, there’s no harm in writing a blog no one reads. The words may eventually reach someone who wants or needs them.

 

When You Need A Plumber…

May 7, 2016

When you need a plumber, the first and smartest choice may be to become a plumber — at least for a few minutes. When it was time to replace the inside of our toilet tank recently, I kept putting it off because I remember how hard it was last time. But I have experience now. While I could have shelled out a couple hundred dollars to have my toilet fixed, I opted to use $12 of my money and less than an hour of my time to solve this minor plumbing issue. It worked out fine, and it was much easier and quicker than I remembered it being.

I like the idea of being the change you want to see in the world. I like the old Army advertising slogan encouraging you to be all you can be. And sometimes, what you need to be is a plumber. There’s nothing scary about it or even particularly complicated. You simply have to learn the skill in the same way you learned to groom your beard, paint your nails or blow into a trumpet. And the sound of a perfectly functioning toilet after months of gulps and glurps is indeed music.

 

It’s Time To Get This Started

June 11, 2016

Finding ways to express myself is important to a more stable and happy future. Could the same be true for you? I’ve found it difficult to find happiness and fulfillment recently, and one of the biggest obstacles standing between me and greater contentment is a feeling of being disconnected, stifled or unable to connect with others. Sharing two paragraphs with a very small audience won’t solve that problem, but starting each morning by focusing on offering a positive message based on my life experiences certainly can’t hurt in my quest to move forward with my life.

So it’s time to get this blog project started. I’ve put up a few explanatory and test posts in the last few weeks as the idea for this project was formulating in my head, but I feel like I’ve reached an important point in my life — one from which I can now move forward. More on that later. For now, I hope you’ll find a way to move forward from whatever challenges you face as I use this blog project as one of the tools to help me have a happier and more fulfilled life.

 

Crisis Point

June 13, 2016

I can’t pin down exactly what’s been happening in my life that led to a lower level of happiness and satisfaction than ever before, but I know that I’ve reached the crisis point and am ready to climb out, move forward and reach greater heights than ever before. As a tall person, achieving the height of personal satisfaction should come more naturally to me.

I can’t point to any incidents that have resulted in reaching this crisis point, but I feel it within in me. And I feel a stronger desire to overcome this mid-life obstacle than ever before. Life can wear us down at times because there’s so much to do, so many negative influences to which we can succumb and so many ways we could have done better in the past. But the future holds endless possibilities when we put aside our insistence on dwelling on the negative and look at how many circumstances are working toward our good. I feel pretty good right now, and I hope you do too. Let’s maintain some positivity as we move forward from our crisis points and move in hope toward a future with so much potential that it can’t be contained.

 

Maybe The Good Life Doesn’t Need To Include Travel

June 14, 2016

So many people advise that travel is an important part of reaching a full understanding of life and your place in it. But I’ve always had a problem deciding how I feel about that. I’ve been inspired by churches, natural beauty and human-created marvels in cities near and far, but I often don’t sleep well in hotels and don’t like driving or riding around all day. Sometimes I wonder if my mind has the ability to create better experiences that I can find by exploring the world.

I don’t have an answer here. But I think this much is certain: life isn’t empty, hollow or narrow if you can’t or don’t travel. Travel is one way to expand your horizons, but it certainly isn’t the only way. Meditation, attending local events and meeting new people also expands your viewpoint. The important thing, I think, is to keep doing new things to challenge yourself. Otherwise, life gets dull and stagnate.

 

Midlife Crisis

June 16, 2016

What’s a midlife crisis? According to my dictionary, it’s a crisis of identity and perhaps self-confidence that happens to some people as we get to early middle age. That sounds like what’s happening in my life. It’s interesting that many sources also include the idea that people start buying things they don’t need and start trying to act younger as they enter a midlife crisis. But I don’t want to be young again. And I don’t want any more stuff.

In fact, I want less of most things. I’ve found that being surrounded by things makes me nervous and even unhappy. To find greater happiness, I need less junk, a clearer head and more meaningful and interesting things to do that make a real difference in the world. I don’t need a Corvette, and I hope you don’t either. My midlife crisis is about simplicity and usefulness, not about showing off how many things I’ve acquired. And some definitions of a midlife crisis include erratic behavior that hurts people, and I don’t want to hurt anyone.

 

I Think It’s Called Contentment

June 16, 2016

The feeling that I’m searching for in life is an elusive thing called contentment. It’s more than just moments of happiness. It’s a long-term and perhaps permanent feeling that everything’s okay — and maybe even very nice. It’s a consistent baseline feeling that I don’t always have. Having contentment means there’s no room in your life for despair and that temporary setbacks like bad news and bad circumstances don’t completely derail your life.

The goal for my life — and perhaps for you — is to expand the contentment that I sometimes feel to form a safety net under my whole life that keeps low moments from going too low. With that net in place, it’s easier to recover from the hard times because the climb back up to normal isn’t as steep or as high. I’m on a journey toward permanent contentment, and I’m glad you’re with me.

 

An Appointment To Get At The End Of The Line

June 17, 2016

When a tire store near me first started offering appointments, I set one up to have my tires balanced and rotated. When I got there, they told me there was a long wait. That’s no problem for me, I said, since I have an appointment. I was informed, however, that an appointment qualified me to get at the end of the line when I arrived. Years later, I tried an appointment at the same shop and arrived 15 minutes early. When I asked what was taking so long to get started since the shop wasn’t busy, I was told that they were waiting for my appointment time before starting on my car.

Yes, those things actually happened. Even though the people at the store seemed reasonably intelligent, they couldn’t see past their misunderstanding of company policies to see how ridiculous these two situations were. They were caught up in rules. Why make an appointment to get at the end of the line when anyone walking in can do that? And why delay the work of someone with an appointment until the clock looks right? If you don’t understand the problem with these two situations, you just might be too caught up in silly rules and nonsense yourself. And I hope you aren’t.

 

Writing Is My Compulsion

June 21, 2016

As you’ve probably already guessed, writing is a kind of compulsion for me. You see, I don’t usually plan what I write when I’m writing these essays. I simply start typing, and a relatively well-organized bit of text emerges. The process of writing like this helps me arrange my thoughts in a way that I can’t do if I’m not writing. The process of putting a couple of paragraphs of heartfelt prose into the world makes me feel better. This doesn’t happen when I’m doing writing work for other people, however. It’s something special that happens when I write without an agenda.

Do you have something in your life that you feel compelled to do by some inner force that you don’t understand? If you’re compelled by money, a family member or something else, that’s not the same thing. But if there’s something in your life you feel motivated to do for no particular reason, it’s probably really important. And you won’t find happiness unless you find ways to do it.

 

Am I Actually The Luckiest Guy In The World?

June 22, 2016

Some might say that I’m among the luckiest (or most blessed, most fortunate) people in the world. I have someone to love and have since I was 17, I have a job writing, which is something that I love — and I set my own hours. I rarely work all day, and when I do, it’s by choice. But why do I often feel like something’s missing from my life?

I know that my life doesn’t involve as many friends as I’d like and it doesn’t involve as much variety or as many new experiences as I’d prefer. But really, is there all that much wrong? Do you have the same problem I do? Do you often wish for and hope for things toward which you aren’t working? And do you fail to notice just how much you already have going for you? You may be a lot luckier — more blessed or even happier, perhaps — than you realize.

 

Writing Is Also Therapy

June 23, 2016

I mentioned that writing is a compulsion for me — something I must do. But it’s also a kind of therapy that helps me organize my thoughts and get things off my chest. In fact, when I don’t have a blog project or some other way to express my feelings, I don’t feel right. No other means of expression impacts me in the same way that writing does.

You must have something like that in your life. What do you do to clear your head, improve your perspective and simply make you feel better? I’ve heard others mentioning that swimming, hiking and doing jigsaw puzzles can have a therapeutic effect. For me, it’s typing words onto a page, just as I’m doing now. I feel better already.

 

Finding Time For Happiness Instead Of Work

June 29, 2016

I write hundreds of words every day — and thousands of words many days. Yet most of the time, it’s only the writing that I do for myself and my own projects that really makes me feel good. Interestingly, I have trouble finding time to write these two paragraphs for Two Graf Life even though I’m always writing. In a way, that means I’m having trouble fitting happiness, satisfaction and contentment into my life.

Are there things you really enjoy doing? And do you have trouble finding time to do them? If that’s the case with you as it is with me, I would suggest that there’s a flaw in how your life is organized. While it isn’t always possible, why not put pleasure ahead of all else? You, your family and others who are important to you come before work, errands and chores, don’t they? So why are our lives organized as if work is what’s most important? It just doesn’t make sense.

 

Are The Sore Shoulders From Writing Or Worrying?

June 30, 2016

When I type a lot in a day without much variety in my activities, my shoulders get sore. Or at least I think that’s what happens. I sometimes think that worrying about hurting myself by working too much is harder on my shoulders than the work itself. If I could take a more relaxed attitude, there might be less pain in my life.

Do you do things every day that cause you pain? Could it be that the pain is the result of worrying about the things rather than the task itself? It may seem like a strange idea to you, but I believe most of my pain issues are caused by stress, worry and attitude. While typing can cause pain, so can stress and worry. So why not join me in trying to put aside actions and thoughts that derail your life unnecessarily?

 

“I Failed To…”

August 27, 2016

I have a relative who often says “I failed to write that in my checkbook” or the cashier “failed to give me a receipt” — when what she means is “I didn’t” or “he didn’t”. It must be really hard on your self-esteem to consider every small misstep or tiny variation from the usual routine a failure. I’ve never failed to do anything, but I have made a few mistakes along the way.

Even if you’ve experienced something that seems like a failure, it’s important to realize that the situation is only temporary. If you’ve failed someone you love, failed to write something on your grocery list or failed an important test, you’re not a failure. You’ve just experienced a temporary blip, a momentary power failure or a fleeting fowl-up. But when you let failure language creep into your everyday life, you’re setting yourself up for real failure. And you don’t want that.

 

I’m Focusing On Medical Issues For A Season

October 22, 2016

With some members of my family focusing on medical issues for a while, I’ve decided to focus on a few medical concerns of my own and get a physical. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the doctor. Dwelling on health issues seems to magnify them, so I prefer to avoid them. Doesn’t it make you feel worse to think about your chronic issues? Isn’t it easier when you just ignore them and get on with your life?

But some health issues can’t be completely ignored. While I don’t like the idea of focusing on what may be wrong with me, I’m allowing it in this season because there’s already a lot of talk about medical problems around me anyway. And there are some things with my own health that really need attention. I hope that by the time spring comes, I’ll be experiencing a renewal in my own life. And then all this focus on medical issues can fade into the background — where it belongs.

 

Rethinking The Medical Profession

November 1, 2016

On my old blog, So Much More Life, I wrote a post called Does A Simple, Minimalist Approach Work With Health Care? I didn’t express an entirely favorable view of the medical profession. And I still don’t like the idea of placing our health in other people’s hands. But some recent health issues in my family have proven that excellent medical care is available in some cases.

Still, the American healthcare system is needlessly complex and often uncaring — and I don’t like big systems much anyway. But this system works in many cases. When you need healthcare, I hope the system works for you. When combined with prayer, meditation, a positive attitude and support from others, our medical system can be one part of staying healthy. But I don’t recommend that you turn your well-being over to anyone — even if they’re trained professionals.

 

Questioning The Benefits Of Being A Complainer

November 8, 2016

I’ve never been shy about sending an email when I don’t like something about a restaurant or store. I even complained to the state insurance board when an insurance company refused to issue a refund I deserved — and eventually got it. But I’m questioning the idea of complaining to big companies and institutions now. I’ve noticed that fewer companies respond or offer any compensation now, and I don’t think putting all that negative energy out there in the universe really does any good.

As a side job, I’ve written some management responses for online hotel reviews for a large Internet company in India. I write a lot of content for them too. I know that when I write the review response, it means the people in charge at the hotel may never read the review. I also know that all the complaining I read in those reviews seems petty, silly and useless. Who cares if the gravy at breakfast wasn’t very hot. And does it matter that a tile on the bathroom floor was cracked? Do I sound that way when I complain? Do you? Complaining may not be part of a happy life.

 

Building A Full Life From What’s Around You

November 15, 2016

I believe it’s possible to build a great life from what’s already around you. If you live in a situation that isn’t your ideal — too rural, too high up or too noisy, for example — you can learn to make the best of it. If you live with people who don’t support you fully, you may be able to adjust your interactions with them to make the best of what they have to offer without being brought down by their negativity.

You see, it’s tempting to say that life will really get going once you solve some of your problems. But those problems are life. You’ll always be surrounded by issues that need your attention as well as people and situations that are less than ideal. But there’s no reason to let those small failings become major obstacles for you. Life is, as they say, what you make it. While it may be motivating to strive for more, what you have now could be plenty for today. Don’t you agree?

 

Growing Up To Play Games

January 3, 2017

I didn’t participate in sports when I was a kid, and I didn’t play many other kinds of games either. I may have played Chinese checkers with my parents or messed around with Connect Four, but I didn’t allow much time in my life for game-playing. I certainly didn’t watch others play games like football or baseball on television. But I find myself playing games now.

In 2016, I got involved in two different hobbies that are essentially scavenger hunt games. And I like them. My work as a writer keeps me inside, and these games get me out and around. I’ll tell you more about the games later, but I thought you might find it interesting that I had to grow up before I became interested in games. I’m in a phase in my life where I welcome frivolity, and I hope you are too.

 

Don’t Be A Hard Shell

June 23, 2017

When I was a teenager, I overheard a conversation between my mother and the pastor of the church that she and I attended. She was telling the pastor that some of our relatives are “hard shells” — which he correctly understood to mean they were associated with the Hard Shell Baptist — or Primitive Baptist — church, a very conservative sect. The denomination doesn’t believe in working with other congregations on mission boards and other projects. They keep to themselves and practice the old ways.

“Maybe someday, somehow, that shell can be cracked,” our pastor said. Maybe. My relatives involved with the sect died years ago, but it still exists. And I’m happy to let people practice whatever religion they want — as long as they don’t try to interfere with other people and their beliefs. But I don’t like the idea of being old-fashioned or rigid. Do you?

 

You Deserve More Than A One Graf Life

July 6, 2017

There’s a reason this site isn’t called One Graf Life. Life isn’t meant to be a one-act play, a short story or a single paragraph. I believe life is meant to have multiple phases, facets and sections. If you’re living a one paragraph life — where everything aligns to a single idea — you’re missing so much of what this world and your existence have to offer.

When you get a chance, change the subject — or at least approach the subject of your life from a new way. Try to live a two paragraph life — or one that’s made up of three, four or even more parts. When you do, you’ll see that some of your firmly held beliefs slough away. What’s left is your core. It turns out that when you explore life from multiple perspectives, you learn more about what matters most to you.

 

A Focus On Words In 2018

January 10, 2018

For 2018, I think I’ll focus on words. Words are my job, and words are my passion too. Today, even simple messages are often presented in a graphical format — like memes, for example. But great words stand on their own. They very literally speak for themselves. In generations past, generating images wasn’t as easy as it is now. And communication was deeper and more thorough, even if was less often.

Maybe this will be the year when words rise again, at least in my life. I work with words and play with them too. I use them as I was trained to use them, and I break a few rules when it suits me. I ask questions. I give answers. I offer advice. I comment. And for all of these forms of expressions, I use words. I love images as much as anyone — and I take a lot of photos. Sure, sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words, but words can conjure up great images too. Will you join me in focusing a bit more on the unmatched power of words?

 

RVs Were The Original Tiny Houses

January 11, 2018

During a discussion with a full-time RVer recently, I had an unoriginal thought: RVs are the original tiny houses. While tiny houses are part of the downsizing movement that seems to be sweeping — or at least creeping up on — the world, thousands of people have been living by choice in travel trailers, recreational vehicles and similar abodes for years. They’re saving money and sometimes saving their souls.

I think a lot about housing situations because I’m not entirely happy with mine. Yet I already have what most people are striving for: safety, comfort, just enough space and a rural setting, among other things. So what am I worried about? I’m concerned that there could be a better way for me to live that I haven’t discovered yet. And it would be foolish not to consider all my options. Are you living your best life in the best possible living situation?

 

Not So Routine After All

(unpublished)

Yesterday, we left the house a little earlier than usual for a day when we didn’t have any scheduled plans. It was getting cold later in the day, and we wanted to be home before that happened. I find comfort in keeping to a regular routine sometimes, but I also really enjoy doing things differently when it suits me.

By leaving early, we got home early, and I got a lot of writing work done that I wouldn’t have finished otherwise. We also saw a sheep and some goats at the mall, which we hadn’t planned or expected. (They had been brought in for a morning children’s program.) When you shake up your routine, you might find the unexpected as well. Isn’t it time to throw out the program, at least for a day or two?

 

Putting Clean Laundry In Dirty Baskets

January 13, 2018

When our washing machine stopped working a few months ago, we visited a laundromat for the first time in about 12 years. We saw something that I think is incredibly strange: people would bring in dirty laundry in a dirty basket, wash the clothes, fold them carefully and then put them back in the same basket to take them home. They were putting clean clothes in a dirty hamper.

I see all kinds of life lessons in this action. Most importantly, someone who puts clean clothes into a dirty basket can’t be present in the moment, careful or mindful. And they certainly aren’t progressing very far in the game of life. Do you make mindless mistakes like that in your daily life? If so, why not be more attentive? Why not be good at everything you do? Why not be careful, mindful and sensible? When you pay attention to the details of life, you may find that life treats you better.

 

“You’re No Different Than Everyone Else”

January 26, 2018

That’s what the dentist told me. He said that most people think their dental problems are unique, but most people’s issues are actually very similar. He said the mouthguard he recommended and that I bought would work for 98 percent of people. But mine didn’t. Fortunately, he’s a person of integrity, so after trying to make adjustments, he gave me my money back.

It’s true that we share many things in common with those we think are different. There’s a lesson in that. But do we really share similar dental issues? I’m beginning to think mine really are unique, and that’s okay. There’s a lesson there too. Sometimes, we’re alike. Sometimes we’re just slightly less alike.

No Matter What Changes, I’m Home In Downtown Fort Worth

I wrote the following post a few months ago for a contest. The prize was something I didn’t want very much, so I didn’t win. At least, I guess I didn’t. They said they’d let me know. They didn’t. Now, you get the post — and I don’t get a prize.

After growing up in a small town near Fort Worth, I moved to an apartment on Camp Bowie as soon as I could. (Living downtown wasn’t even really an option two decades ago.) For me, identifying with Fort Worth rather than my small town roots was a choice.

Then the need for cheap housing sent me packing to Parker County more than a decade ago. But I still consider myself a Fort Worthian. This town is where I spend my money, spend my time and live my life.

Downtown is a great destination in its own right for many reasons – and when there’s nothing else to do or see in town or you don’t want to spend much money, there’s always downtown Fort Worth. You can explore the galleries or shops like a tourist, marvel anew at the Water Gardens or simply choose a restaurant patio where you can enjoy an afternoon or evening.

And as someone who likes to walk for exercise, the streets of downtown provide a nice occasional alternative to wandering around in a park, on a trail or at the mall.

Perhaps downtown Fort Worth’s best asset is its abundant free and cheap parking. When I’m on a weekend trip to Austin, San Antonio, Oklahoma City or some other distant and exotic locale, it’s always amazing to me how hard it is to park. How can I access what the city wants me to see and do if I can’t even park?

No matter where I go, it’s always good to get home to Fort Worth.

Like so many people who are from small towns around here or who have chosen to live outside this city’s limits for the space or the value, I call Fort Worth home because that’s how it feels. It’s hard to imagine how it could feel so special to me without such a diverse, interesting, walkable, accessible and ever-improving downtown.

I may sleep in Parker County, but I live in Fort Worth.

Gip Plaster identifies so strongly with Fort Worth that he calls himself the Fort Worth Copywriter, and you can find him online at fortworthcopywriter.com.

Pledge Drives Are Disingenuous: Two Reasons I No Longer Donate To Public Television

For several years, I donated a few dollars every month to a local public television station. I loyally watched the British comedies and some other programs it broadcast, and I decided to donate because I benefited from the station’s services.

I no longer donate to public television, and there are two primary reasons I made this choice. Do you agree with my reasons? Should you?

I hope these points give you something to think about if you’re considering giving some of your hard-earned funds to support public television.

Here are the two reasons I no longer donate:

1. Public television is no longer in line with my values.

I don’t mean that the public television agenda is too liberal for me or that it promotes causes with which I don’t agree. I mean that I no longer live the kind of life where something as unimportant as television plays a major role.

My simple, deliberate life isn’t as restrictive as the lives of some who chose the simple path. I watch TV when it appeals to me, and I do so unapologetically. But it’s not very important to me. If it disappeared from my life, my life wouldn’t be any less compelling or complete.

TV is, at best, something about which I’m ambivalent now, not something that I want to support with my money.

Besides, most of what I watch on my television screen these days is on DVD, not broadcast on public television. So it’s just not that important.

2. Because of the way pledge drives are handled, public television often doesn’t do what it usually does.

Public television pledge drives are more frequent than ever before, and they’re handled is more intrusive — and less interesting.

On KERA, the public television station that serves North Texas, pledge breaks are no longer centered around regular programming and haven’t been in many years. They’re based around specials that attract a different, wealthier audience than the station’s regular programming. And increasingly, these programs are highly targeted health or self-help programs aimed at a very narrow but statistically significant group of givers

There are specials aimed at people with arthritis, programs for people with memory problems and things about hormones I don’t want to understand. There are special cooking pledge programs and shows aimed at teaching people to play hack piano. And of course, there are all those classic music specials.

These pledge programs focus on older people because old people are perceived to have more money to give away. But I think it’s disingenuous of public television stations to prey on older citizens for their money, then return when the money is secured to children’s programming and home repair shows.

I still watch public television when my local station offers something I want to see, but it offers fewer quality programs and I watch less TV than ever, so I find myself watching it less and less.

Still, I like the idea of public television in theory. And I suppose I’m glad it’s there to offer an alternative voice — a voice that is less influenced by advertisers, even if it is biased at times in favor of other groups with money.

Public TV is nice to have around. It’s just not an idea I care to support anymore.

Referring To Companies As “It”, Not “They” May Explain A Lot

As I was finishing up my post about Sweet Tomatoes specifically, buffet restaurants in general and my not-so-fond memories about how I used to live, I realized something. It explains a lot about why I feel so strongly that we’re eating ourselves into despair.

Toward the end of that post, I wrote this sentence: “I won’t be visiting Sweet Tomatoes again, and I unsubscribed for the company’s email list and unliked its Facebook page.”

Actually, I first wrote that I “unsubscribed from their email list and unliked their Facebook page”. Then I remembered that according to most writing style manuals used in the United States, companies should be referred to in the singular rather than the plural.

I always want companies to be plural, perhaps, because I watch too much British television. Or perhaps I want companies to be plural because I like the idea that there are real people running them.

When you refer to a company in the singular (“its Facebook page”, for example), you suggest that the company is an entity of its own. Referring to a company in the plural (“their Facebook page”), suggests to readers that the company is made up of a collection of real people. Don’t all companies have real people behind them somewhere?

This could explain my dissatisfaction with the way many of us eat. When every item we consume comes from a faceless corporation with no one apparently representing it, how can we feel any real connection to the source, quality or healthfulness of the product? There are people involved in our food production at every level — even if machines are doing much of the work.

If I were running a food company, I’d rather be mistaken for a “they” than considered an “it”, I think. I’d like people to understand that a collection of real people are really responsible for what my company puts out. Wouldn’t you?

In fact, the world might be better than it already is if we would recognized the people behind and within every company, organization or process in which we become involved. We might feel more connection, more empathy and more respect.

We might even all get along. But perhaps that’s too grand a point to make in a simple post about an interesting little grammar rule that few people follow.

Sweet Tomatoes And Other Buffets Depress Me Too

I’m generally a very happy person these days, but the quality and quantity of food we eat does make me sick at times.

When I wrote a few weeks ago about Why Trader Joe’s Depresses Me, I also had another depressing food experience in mind. We recently visited the Fort Worth location of Sweet Tomatoes, an all-you-can-eat soup, salad and bakery place that we had visited at other locations before.

The food when we visited for an early dinner a few weeks ago was dried out, stuck to its serving utensils, overflowing from its containers and generally looking terrible from lack of care and attention. But never mind that the quality and presentation at this location was inferior to the others we had visited, it was the experience in general that bothered me.

We once frequently visited buffets and other all-you-can-eat restaurants, and I often ate way too much. While I’m sure Sweet Tomatoes — which focuses on salad and soup and offers no entrees and few meat choices — would object to be lumped in with other buffets, it’s still an accurate term for this chain that serves big bowls of sloppiness rather than carefully prepared portions of whole foods.

We had visited looking a rare treat, the kind of high-end experience we had found at the chain before. What I got was a stomach ache and strong sense that even being in the place was a betrayal of my commitment to simple living.

Although few people were in the restaurant when we visited, the ones who dined near us reminded me of the overweight, undereducated people I remember from my years of buffet dining.

I was upset about the high price (although I didn’t pay), upset about the low quality, upset about the old memories and especially upset that visiting had been my idea. My stomach felt like I remembered it used to feel every day, my brain seemed less sharp and my head ached.

I was overfed on low-quality food, and I was depressed.

As I said in my post a few weeks ago, we deserve better than what we’re getting. We deserve good food made by people who care, and that means we deserve food prepared in our homes by hands that serve us with care and compassion.

This post isn’t about Sweet Tomatoes or any other buffet chain. It’s about how sad our way of dealing with food makes me.

I won’t be visiting Sweet Tomatoes again, so I unsubscribed from the company’s email list and unliked its Facebook page.

That company is no longer part of my life, and I’m a better person because I’ve moved on.

Why Trader Joe’s Depresses Me

Trader Joe’s depressed me because it’s about as good as it gets. And I think we humans deserve better than frozen turkey burgers, fried orange chicken pieces and mixed nuts with chunks of peanut brittle in them.

For the best combination of quality and value, I’m convinced that Trader Joe’s, a chain of cut-price gourmet grocery stores, is the best choice in areas where the company has stores. Products have no preservatives, colorings or other icky things and are available at lower prices than in high-end grocers.

But the company specializes in frozen ready-made meals that require little or no cooking.

Actually, it’s the chef’s case at Central Market in Fort Worth that first got me thinking about the miserable state of the food most people eat and its uncertain origins. Central Market is an upscale grocery store that prides itself on a large deli where people can buy cold foods designed to be warmed up in a microwave. Whole Foods Market offers something similar in its stores. Like Central Market, Whole Foods is praised for the quality of its fresh-made deli offerings.

Trader Joe’s, Central Market and Whole Foods all depress me a bit, however. I’ve tried frozen and prepared products from all three stores, and I’ve been disappointed by most of them. I find that I’m most satisfied by food when I cook it myself because I know that it was prepared to my standards and tastes.

The frozen products I’ve found at Trader Joe’s are, in fact, superior to similar products I’ve found at my favorite grocery store, Aldi. And there’s nothing wrong with the potato salad or fresh sandwiches at Central Market either.

But surely we deserve better than that. Don’t we all deserve freshly made foods prepared with love by our own hands or the hands of people we know? Don’t we deserve fruits that haven’t been processed by professional canning companies and veggies that aren’t pre-trimmed and vacuumed-packed?

Isn’t it time to turn our backs on prepackaged, pre-made and flash-frozen?

You see, it’s precisely because Trader Joe’s, Central Market and Whole Foods are so well regarded that I wonder how many of us are eating well. I know I struggle with this every time I purchase something that disappoints me.

When I sample an item at an upscale deli counter known for its spectacular quality and find it uninspiring, unappealing or even unpleasant, one thought runs through my head immediately: This is as good as it gets. There may be no better prepared food on the planet, and it’s only fair.

We deserve better than this — better than bland and tasteless food provided to us in biodegradable plastic-like containers or cardboard freezer-proof boxes. We deserve food that’s actually been in a real skillet, pan or mixing bowl.

As I stand alongside aging executives in tailored suits and young mothers dragging along small children, I see what they get from these cases and freezer cabinets and feel a bit depressed.

I’ve often had what they’re having. It’s the best in the world, experts say, and I don’t think it’s very good.

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Downtown Fort Worth And Sundance Square Are Sad Now, But Can They Recover?

No one disputes that the new development along West 7th St. in Fort Worth has stolen something from downtown Fort Worth and its Sundance Square development. But can the city’s central business district become a tourist destination and hangout for locals again?

Sure it can, but many, many things will have to change first. Downtown Fort Worth is a sad place to visit now, and that will be difficult for developers to overcome.

When I worked at RadioShack’s corporate headquarters in the late 1990s, Sundance Square was booming. My employer was even in on the act with its ill-devised and ill-fated Fort Worth Outlet Square mall. (Developing a shopping center with the idea of beautifying your corporate headquarters instead of attracting customers and filling underserved niches was a bad idea.)

Then, two movie theaters gave people a reason to come downtown. A thriving Barnes and Noble bookstore gave them something to do if they finished dinner 30 minutes before their movie, play or concert started. And a number of eclectic shops made wandering the streets an enjoyable part of every evening downtown.

Slowly, things began to erode. Even before ground was broken on the new 7th St. development, Sundance Square started to lose its luster. The rest of downtown never really had much luster to lose.

The destructive tornado that hit downtown in 2000 did plenty of damage, but the area recovered from that. It didn’t last long, however.

One of the movie theaters closed to become some kind of conference center. Iconic hamburger joint Billy Miner’s closed, but you couldn’t really blame the owner for wanting to retire. Other established restaurants came and went, and new restaurants went before anyone knew they had come.

The changes at the Barnes and Noble are among the saddest for me. I’ve spent many hours — in 15 or 20 minute chunks — wandering, sitting and sipping in that bookstore, but most of the furniture has been removed now. The number of books has been dramatically reduced as well. The upstairs area above the entrance was once a great place to overlook the happenings at the restaurant 8.0. With no furniture, the windows have lost their appeal. Never mind that 8.0 is gone.

And what were the owners of 8.0 thinking when they put that massive and ugly cover over their well-regarded patio? Now, the heat stays in, and young customers of the new Flying Saucer will never know how beautiful that big patio was before that monstrous plastic thing covered it up.

At least one supposedly positive sign for downtown Fort Worth turned out to be a flop. Oliver’s Fine Foods promised downtown the grocery store it never had but delivered yet another sandwich shop instead. My review of Oliver’s a few months ago expressed my disappointment, and things had not improved on a recent visit. It may be a successful sandwich shop at lunch, but rotten lettuce and single celeries don’t make for a great grocery store.

I attended two nights of the Colonial golf tournament after-party in Sundance Square recently, but few others joined me. The concerts were great, but the few vendors combined with the band members sometimes outnumbered the audience of paying beer drinkers. A walk around downtown both nights helped me see that there was no one downtown from which the party could draw.

The cartooned construction walls signal another chance at revival for Sundance Square, but a new plaza and some new buildings won’t necessarily bring back the energy the area once had — or the people, who will have probably found a good place to park on West 7th by then.

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How Grapes Call Into Question Life’s Unchanging Certainties

I like grapes.

What kind of a first sentence for a blog post is that? No search engine optimization techniques have been applied, and it doesn’t offer any lessons or advice to you that you can use to make your life better.

But I like grapes, and that’s an important statement about my life. A couple of years ago, I didn’t like grapes.

Things change.

Lives evolve.

Continued exposure creates awareness, acceptance and eventually celebration.

Important lessons about life emerge from the simple fact that once I didn’t like grapes, and now I do.

Most weeks, we stop by Central Market in Fort Worth, a high-end grocery store that balances hard-to-find and boutique grocery items with a nearly complete line of regular groceries. Many weeks during the warmer months, we take advantage of their free weekend concerts. In fact, we were once regulars at these events, so we were there a lot.

Sample of amazing food are always available, and grapes are usually among them. I started slowly at first, trying grapes only occasionally. I’ve also tried oranges, freshly made guacamole and salad with cranberries served alongside some salmon. I still don’t like oranges, and I’m starting to like guacamole. Cranberries don’t belong in salad, as it turns out, but salmon belongs on my plate.

At first, the grapes all seemed sour and unappealing to me. Squishy on the inside and chewy on the outside? Is that how they seem to everyone else? Why would anyone eat one of these?

But I kept trying them. I began to notice that the red ones were sweeter than the white ones. And the purple ones have more flavor. And some grapes are simply better than others.

Through repeated exposure to a variety of grape experiences, I began to realize that I actually like some of them. I don’t like bad grapes, but I like good ones. My tolerance for the mediocre ones has even increased.

A few months ago, I bought some grapes. That was a first for me.

What are the lessons from my long-term exposure to grapes? I see lots of them, and among them are these:

  • On a simple and direct level, people’s tastes change.
  • On a wider level, people’s preferences and opinions change.
  • Exposure reduces negative opinions, and that can lead to acceptance and perhaps even celebration.
  • Opposition can be based on sour grapes — a bad initial experience. But it can be overcome.

Because I take weekly walks through a high-end grocery store, I’ve learned that I like grapes, guacamole, salmon and a variety of strange salad dressings, ice cream flavors, breads and deli meats.

Learning about my taste for exotic or at least unfamiliar foods is a really big thing in my life.

It means that life’s unchanging certainties aren’t really set in stone at all. Exposure, though, is one of the keys to acceptance.

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Clenched Teeth Cause Problems, So Live With Your Jaws Dropped

At times, I have a problem with clenching my teeth when I sleep, causing sore gums, grinding away of the tooth surface, pain in my jaws, pain in my face and even a stiff neck.

It’s a bit unpleasant.

My bad pillow could be to blame — or it could just be an inherited condition. It might be something else entirely.

A doctor or dentist might not agree with me, but I believe my tight jaws are at least partially a symptom of spiritual rather than physical problems. Clenched teeth perhaps signify an unsettled life.

Here are a few things I’ve found that helps me live a life that doesn’t need to be chewed over during the night. Would they help you with whatever symptoms complicate your life?

1. Breathing more than I have to. Breathing is necessary for life, but deep breathing is a rarely practiced exercise that releases tensions of all sorts.

2. Going outside more than I have to. I don’t do it enough, but there’s always something amazing outside that takes my mind away from my problems.

3. Working less than I have to. I’m often motivated to keep moving, but in most cases, stopping early, quitting sooner and working better is the best course of action.

4. Walking whether I’m going somewhere or not. It’s the best exercise for body and mind, I think, and I’m not interested in being convinced otherwise.

5. Living better than I should be. I never seem to have enough money despite being abundant and resourceful, but many of life’s finer things — like parks, the best museums and downtown sidewalks — are available free for public use.

Maybe my list is a bit too complicated, however.

So let me say this another way: I try to live my life with my jaw dropped in awe rather than clinched in despair.

When I remember to do that, I don’t have a care in the world.

Reflections On Life From A Walmart Parking Lot

As I sat in a Walmart parking lot waiting for someone several months ago — perhaps even a year or more ago — I scribbled on the back of a window envelope in which some kind of bill had been delivered some notes on what I saw.

If I had gone completely paperless at the point, I might have had nothing on which to write these observations. Then again, they might not be very important anyway.

I’ve finally gotten around to typing up these comments as a part of my project in December 2011 to clear the little pieces of paper off my desk. Of course, the observations here are skewed because they only represent what I could see in my rearview mirror.

Here they are:

  • We’re always on the phone. And it seems from what I can see that walking while celling is a dangerous thing to do in a Walmart parking lot.
  • We’re disconnected from the present moment and situation. People who were almost walking beside each other or who passed within inches never acknowledged the other person as fellow participants in life. I wouldn’t have either.
  • We’re sometimes mindless automatons. Since buying from Walmart doesn’t require all of our minds’ skills, we turn off most of them.
  • We’re consumers even when we can’t afford to be. People who can’t afford to wash themselves or their cars or repair the things that have gone wrong with their current possessions would perhaps do best not to buy more.
  • We’re fat.
  • We don’t like our jobs, and we’re still stewing about them when we get to Walmart after work. If we work at Walmart retrieving carts, we stew while we’re outside.
  • We’re segregated when we want to be. I didn’t see anyone who was black and very few of the shoppers at this location were Hispanic. At other Walmarts, few of the shoppers are white, I suspect.
  • We think bigger is better and we express that through our cars. If we’re tiny men, we are especially likely to drive big cars. An SUV with a single occupant doesn’t make sense in any way, but I saw lots of them.
  • We’re all going to be just fine. It’s all just silliness that I see in the Walmart parking lot. My life is still hopeful, and I hope others have hope too.

In fact, I wrote on the back of that envelope that my life and the world in general is getting better in many ways despite what I saw.

My life is better today than it was then, and it’s still getting better.