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Check Out Dr. Zlupko's Editorial Content on the topic HOBBIES published on the Altoona Mirror. Read out full article!

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Have you ever found yourself in a small group or sitting at a table with 3 or 4 people that are total strangers?  The conversation usually begins with questions about where you live or how you got invited, etc.  One of the points of discussion that often comes up is hobbies.  Do you have one? How long have you had it? You know the drill. This kind of conversation is usually non-threatening and non- controversial, that is unless I am part of the discussion.

I found myself at a table with 4 other people, all strangers to each other.  After the usual hellos and uncomfortable smiles, I asked one nice middle aged lady next to me if she had any hobbies.  Her uncomfortable smile morphed into a wide grin as she explained that reading was her hobby. My smile turned into a subtle but noticeable laugh when I said “How does a book and a sofa constitute a hobby?”.  That was the last smile we enjoyed together.

This embarrassing encounter got me to thinking about all the hobbies I have had and why they should be considered hobbies.  First, a hobby is something you do for pleasure without the need for reward other than your own satisfaction but, more importantly, a hobby must have equipment.  A book and a sofa are not equipment.  To confirm my theory that a hobby needs equipment I went to my basement and surveyed the carnage of my hobbies of yesteryear.

My first real adult hobby was stamp collecting.  True to the theory of equipment I bought tweezers, magnifying glasses, catalogues, special plastic envelopes and, of course, albums. Just to make things more difficult, I did not specialize in US stamps.  The Berlin wall had just fallen and I thought it would be a good idea to collect Russian stamps before the USSR went bust.  It is hard to believe how I tired of this endeavor after only two years.  It is even harder to believe that I still have all this stuff in a closet.

Next came astronomy.  I had two fairly expensive telescopes, one of which allowed me to take astrophotos.  The problems arose early in my astronomy career.  The best viewing times in this latitude are in the fall and winter often very late if you want to see some of the more spectacular objects in space.  You need to take your telescope out in the evening and let it get adjusted to the ambient temperature.  If you are taking photos you must also “polar align” and determine what the best exposure time may be.  The exposure times are often 10 to 20 minutes or more and sometimes you just need to guess and take several long exposures.  Did I mention that the temperature was often below freezing and sometimes below zero?  Did I say that I was often nearly knee deep in snow?  Did I mention that I needed to drink a great deal of brandy to keep from freezing to death?  My telescopes have now been donated to the local high school along with assorted lens and other equipment.

Next came an obsession with watercolor.  Somehow I got the idea that I wanted to sketch and do ink and watercolor drawings.  I bought paper of a variety of quality to use.  I have brushes, watercolor pigments, trays, an easel and colored pencils along with special pens and ink.  I also bought stacks of books on technique.  I did do some sketches but never any watercolors of note.  I was not very good and realized after a time that I could take a better picture with a camera then I could sketch and watercolor.  I still have all the equipment and feel that I may go back to it someday but I really think I have moved on.

Vegetable gardening was a hobby that occurred in the warmer weather and was interspersed with the others.  I once tried to have a large blueberry patch and a corn field before I realized that the deer love this stuff. I have a rototiller that would be the envy of any true farmer.  I could till up acres with the machine.  My current garden is about 20 x 30 and it takes me about 20 minutes to till it up.  On average one tomato costs me about four dollars.  Somewhere in the early years of my farming career, I dreamt of having a rabbit ranch and sent to the Department of Agriculture for information on rabbit husbandry.  Do you have any idea how much information the federal government has on rabbits?  I never raised one rabbit.

My latest hobby is golf.  Now, here is a hobby with endless equipment. I now have three sets of clubs, many putters, assortments of golf balls with various characteristics as well as gloves, shoes and hats.  This is the best hobby so far.  You are constantly trying to get better (which of course you can’t) and you always need more stuff because if you have no ability you need equipment.

I apologize to the lady I may have insulted with my laughter but hobbies must have equipment. That’s why I never got into jogging.  Sneakers and shorts, that’s not a hobby.

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