Penny Foolish

I had a pocketful of change weighing me down—dimes, nickels and pennies—the other day and I wanted a candy bar. Seeing one of my favorites from years ago, I bought a Three Musketeers bar for 79 cents, gave the checkout girl eight dimes and received a penny change.

I had reduced the change in my pocket from somewhere around 140 cents to 69 cents, including nine pennies.

I do a fairly good job of limiting the amount of change in my pocket and having more than 40 or 50 cents is a lot for me. And if I have quarters, they go into a holder in the car and are used to buy coffee or feed parking meters. But I got out of my rhythm after spending nine days in Wales, which is burdened with the currency of Great Britain.

I received so many coins in Wales that the right side of my body started to sag. Consider that in the British system, there are pennies (call pence), two pence, five pence, ten pence, twenty pence and fifty pence. We in the States can relate.

But on top of the pence, the British also have a one-pound and a two-pound coin and no comparable bills. So if your change is, say 11 pounds 15, you can get a lot of coins to wear you down. I got pretty good at knowing how many pound coins I had in my pocket so I could use them and avoid filling my pocket with more weight.

I reminded one of the Welsh woman making change for me, one who shared my unhappiness with the coins, that the Australians had gotten rid of one-pence and two-pence coins in the 1990s. In fact, it happened between visits for us and I was more than happy to discover their absence. My body didn’t sag right.

It would be nice if Great Britain and the United States reduced the number of penny ante coins in the system. I understand that it cost more to make a penny than the value of the coin. Why keep making them?

An anglophile friend of mine defend the pound coins years ago by explaining to me that they last longer than paper bills and that reduces costs. You might say that the Brits are pound wise and penny foolish. But then, we are also penny foolish. In addition to getting rid of at least the penny (if not the nickel and the dime), why not convert the dollar bill to a coin? Why stop with the dollar?

I know some people will lament the death of the penny, but I haven’t seen penny candy in a long time and penny ante poker is now at least nickel-dime if not quarter-fifty.

It’s time to move on.


Review: A Famous Dog's Life

When I took my copy of A Famous Dog’s Life into the exam room at my doctor’s in New Mexico, her nurse looked at the cover and asked: Is that the Taco Bell dog? Chihuahuas are everywhere in my neighborhood and I can’t tell one from the other.

I’m a little more in tune now, thanks to this book, by Sue Chipperton and Rennie Dyball, which was a good read and an education for me. Chipperton trains dogs—and other animals—for television commercials and movies and the Taco Bell dog, whose real name was Gidget, lived with Chipperton so the story is not only about Gidget’s role in commercials and movies, but their life together. Thus, we learn how and where they traveled, how they lived on the road and how Gidget—and other animals trained by Chipperton and friends—met a long list of movie stars, including my favorite Clint Eastwood.

As a freelance photographer, I learned a couple of things that might come in handy should someone ever ask me to shoot a portrait of her dog or cat. It all comes down to associating a desired behavior with a desired sound—and then a treat. That works on me, too.

Chipperton thanks Dyball for “suffering through my edits,” and I must commend Dyball, a former student of mine, for maintaining Chipperton’s voice throughout. It’s the mark of a good editor to let the right voice through, and in this book, the voice is true and consistent.


A Sabbatical in Santa Fe

We had just told a writerly luncheon group I belonged to in Pennsylvania that we were moving back to Pennsylvania when one of them asked me what living in Santa Fe was like.

It was, I said, just like a sabbatical.

Actually, it was not like the two sabbaticals I had had as a college professor. I spent one of those at home writing a monograph on John O’Hara and serving an expert witness in a defamation case and I spent the other teaching journalism on English-speaking graduate students in China. But both of those sabbaticals were my idea.

When my wife, Paulette, first proposed that we retire to Santa Fe, I did hesitate. After all, I’m a ninth-generation Pennsylvanian whose ancestors arrived in colonial Philadelphia a decade after Ben Franklin had come down from Boston and my plan (if I had any) was to have my ashes scattered somewhere in the commonwealth and be done with it.

Now, after nearly eight years in Santa Fe, we are, for family reasons, moving back to Pennsylvania. In addition to being closer to my mother-in-law, I have calculated other benefits to returning, including a greater chance of seeing all of our seven grandchildren at least once a year instead of only on Skype.

But I’ve also reflected on our time in Santa Fe and can list many benefits to having lived here.

A lifelong but only superficial student of photography, upon arriving here, I immediately signed up for a workshop or two at Santa Fe Workshops. But for one of them, I needed to know a desktop publishing software I was not familiar with, and when self-teaching didn’t get me to the level I needed to be at, I turned to Santa Fe Community College, where I took a series of courses in the particular software and branched out into typography, drawing, photography-related courses and strength training for seniors.

In the meantime, my creative wife enrolled in a variety of painting courses both at the community college and Valdes Art Workshops. We each found other workshops that enabled us to get better at our artistic pursuits. Eventually, we felt confident enough in our skills to develop a joint approach to our work, which we trademarked as Pixels and Bristles® and started self-publishing books and calendars that combined my photographs and my wife’s paintings. We have others projects in mind.

We came here to retire and are leaving as business partners, something totally unexpected.

And so as we head back to Pennsylvania, we feel our best creative years lie ahead—thanks to a sabbatical in Santa Fe.