One Thing & Another

 Notes From My Journal: Things are heating up here…

The American Airlines terminal in Miami was medium-crowded, typical for a Saturday morning. But the waiting area in front of the gate was nearly deserted when I arrived, an hour before the flight was scheduled to take off. By boarding time, there were people there, but not many and almost all of them were Nicaraguan.

This is how it was 22 years ago when I first flew to Managua to check out real estate opportunities.  Back then, there was only one flight a day from Miami to Managua and I was almost always the only gringo on board. Developing Rancho Santana changed all that. First there was a trickle of visitors and speculators, mostly surfers. Then there was a stream. And then, before all this current chaos, there were a half-dozen flights into Managua every day, most of them packed with American tourists, some coming from Scarsdale and Boca Raton.

So I was okay with it. But when I got to Managua, I was told that it would be impossible to get to Rancho Santana by car. The roads were blocked. Tens of thousands of students were protesting in the city. Police and government thugs had already killed more than 40 civilians. Luckily, there was a charter plane flying to Esmeralda Airport in two hours. There was one seat left. I took it.

On board, I met one of the owners of Sur Sanctuary, a hostel founded in the old days, about 7 years after we planted our flag at Rancho Santana. She told me that their business was down considerably since news of the trouble made its way to the USA. But surfers are young and durable. Other venues nearby that catered exclusively to tourists had closed their doors.

Tommy, my friend of 55 years, met me at the airport. He had assured me that there was no danger in my coming down. But now he admitted that he was thinking of getting himself and his son out of the country for safety reasons. “So why did you tell me to come?” I asked him. “A man needs a drinking buddy in times like these,” he said.


Today’s Word: anathema (noun)

Anathema (uh-NATH-uh-muh) is something or someone that is hated or cursed. Example from the innovative American writer Henry Miller: “The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. In this world, the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.”


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

A Micro Approach to Self-Improvement:

How to Get Better at Just About Everything – Even If You Don’t Have the Energy or the Time

My friends and relatives that rely on the NYT for a worldview don’t approve of self-improvement. They see it as lowbrow and narcissistic. They snigger at its many manifestations from personal productivity to fitness and weight loss to memory and motivation and mindfulness.

I get that. There are many lightweight programs out there in the marketplace, some selling for thousands of dollars. And even the good stuff, what can it bring you? Eternal life? So what’s the point?

But though I know I’ll never be 100% of what I want to be, I can’t stop trying.

When I sit down  to write, I wish I were a better writer. When making a speech, I wish I had better public speaking skills. When Renato, who weighs 155 pounds, smashes me on the mats for a solid hour, I wish my Jiu Jitsu technique was greater.

In my spare moments, I wish I could be better at math and at crossword puzzles and at chess and at billiards and at playing the French horn and at speaking Spanish and Italian and French and reading Latin.

And that’s just the beginning…

I want to paint and sculpt in metal. I want to be a kinder, better person.

Alas, my self-improvement cup runneth over!

What to do?

I could narrow the field of my objectives. But I don’t want that. I want to keep getting better at… well, everything.

Still, hard as I’ve tried, I was never able to fit all my self-improvement projects into my schedule.

Until about six months ago…

I woke up one morning with this idea: Since I don’t want to decrease the number of things I’m trying to do, maybe I can do more by spending less time on each one.

For example: I’d been wanting – but failing – to do yoga and meditate every day. Why had I failed? Because yoga takes an hour and meditation takes 20 minutes, and I don’t usually have that much free time.

But what if I did just 5 minutes of each? Surely, that would be better than nothing, right?

So I put my theory to the test. And the results have been very encouraging.

Instead of spending 60 minutes in a yoga class, I developed a 3-minute routine that I do every morning (to loosen my body up) and before bed every night (to relax my body for sleep). I will never become a yogi this way, but those 6 minutes have had a noticeable effect on the way I feel.

Meditation? “Serious” meditators do at least two 20-minute sessions a day. I do two 5-minute sessions with a program I found on I do one session when I wake up, and another just before I lie down.

In addition, I spend 3 minutes every morning doing calisthenics, focusing on my major muscles and core. It’s amazing how much of a workout you can get in 3 minutes. More than enough to flush your muscles with blood and get your heart pounding.

I am studying five languages right now, too: advanced French and Spanish, intermediate Italian, and beginning Portuguese. Plus intermediate Latin. (For no practical purpose. Just for fun.) There are dozens of language apps available, some better than others. For Italian and Portuguese, I’m using Duolingo. For French and Spanish, I’m listening to podcasts. I spend, on average, 5 minutes per lesson.

You might think that you cannot learn so many languages simultaneously, especially when you’re spending so little time on each one. But in the three months I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a lot of progress. Much more than I expected.

I’ve got learning apps for everything from math to art to geography and history, to name a few. I can now identify all the South American countries and capitals, and I can identify about three-dozen dog breeds by sight.

If all this sounds crazy to you, I understand. It felt crazy to me when I started in on it. I don’t think what I’m doing is going to change the world in any way, but it does give me one or two hours of pure self-improvement gratification every day.

When 5 minutes is too long…

There are times when I feel so rushed that I don’t want to devote even 5 minutes to one of my self-improvement goals. When that happens, I give in to the feeling. I don’t do 5 minutes. Instead, I do one. One single minute.

Sixty seconds is so little time. Yet it’s a long way away from nothing. By allowing myself the occasional 60-second self-improvement session, I have the pleasure of being able to check one more thing off my self-improvement list for the day.

And, of course, what usually happens after a minute is that I decide to continue. Sometimes a minute turns into 2 or 5 or 20. Sometimes it becomes an hour. Meanwhile, in my mind, I’ve already rewarded myself with an A for effort after the first 60 seconds.


Fun Fact

How to guess the temperature on a summer evening: Count the number of cricket chirps in a 15-second period and add 37. The total will be (approximately) the temperature in Fahrenheit.


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