Retirement – Month Eight, February

Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day Through Year One of Retirement
February

Day 216, Mon Feb 1: I drive down to Tacoma to meet up with Elena and pick up her lacrosse stick. I’m going to bring it back to Bellevue and take into Breakaway Sports to get a broken string restrung. The one who can do it best and do it right is Rob at Breakaway. She has a backup stick she can use for practice, but she does not want to go into the season without her Number One (a STX composite stick, all black and gray, in case you’re curious — or if you need a recommendation to help you to buy a lacrosse stick for a young relative of yours).

I make chili and salad for supper.

Day 217, Tue Feb 2: I replaced the burned out lightbulb in the fixture by the master bathroom sink mirror. This might sound simple – how many retired guys does it take to change a lightbulb? – but as everybody knows, light fixtures are not all created equal. Some are Rubik’s Cubes to break into. For anything more complicated or unusual than a regular screw-in lightbulb it’s almost always a little anxiety creating.

In this case it’s a long, tubularish glass fixture – kind of a narrow sconce-like thing — that has to somehow slide out of its brackets. It has already been broken once in the past – honest, I don’t remember how that happened — and we had to replace the whole thing, an adventure that involved more than one visit to Seattle Lighting. Before I start I even wonder if the bulbs themselves are going to be some kind of weird halogen or snap-in thing instead of a good old twist-in lightbulb. As it turns out, I have a paper bag of replacement bulbs stashed with all of the cleaning supplies under the sink and there are three good little light bulbs in there that look like regular ones. Then with just a little wiggling and moving, at about the time I’m wondering if there is some kind of latch or something on the brackets, the glass cover slides right out. The bulb changes straightforwardly, no muss no fuss. And, amazingly, the cover also slides right back into place. So, one retired guy to change a lightbulb.

Day 218, Wed Feb 3: Trigger warning for parents who’ve had kids in college: FAFSA comments coming up.

On my personal opinionmeter, FAFSA is starting to dip down dangerously close to the Social Security and the Medicare systems. FAFSA is the thing you fill out if you have a college student and you are hoping to get a droplet of financial aid. The way it works is this: you agonize over filling out an incredibly detailed form about every minuscule aspect of your household worth. All of your money except the coins you picked up off the ground today. Then college financial aid officers decide that you are just slightly richer than Warren Buffett and they extend a dab of financial aid just to keep their job secure. Then you repeat that process each year that your kid is in school.

Today I am filling out the resistant online form. I don’t know it yet but if I could foretell the future I would know that this fucking thing will come back to haunt me next April, in three months. In April — after filing a placeholder preliminary FAFSA based on last year’s tax return — I try to do what is supposed to be a simple update that links it to the info in my actual tax return for this year once that is completed. Are you following me?
This minor update becomes a major fuckaroo (I’m not even going to say “excuse my language;” I think you understand) when it rejects various passwords (even though I have them written down on a sticky note) and then starts requiring me to make up a new “Security Key” which it also rejects. Even though I just created it. And then it locks me out entirely because I’ve had too many failed attempts.

For today I have lost some of my resolve. Defeated, I will give up for a few days while I wait for my blood pressure to subside enough that I can complete the FAFSA task without cursing so loudly that I alarm the cat.

For tonight’s supper task I don’t have to create any passwords to make dal and naan.

Day 219, Thu Feb 4: I have friends I grew up with who are retired in Schuyler, my little Nebraska home town. They stayed, worked, and raised families or whatever. As far as I can tell (and, of course, I’m not at all in touch so I have no real idea) they’ve had happy, fulfilled lives there. I’m almost certain that there are way fewer neuroses free-floating in the zeitgeist of Schuyler than there are in the desperate, striving, urban places like Seattle or any other city.

Colfax County comprises Schuyler and five villages: Clarkson, Leigh, Howells, Richland, and Rogers. In the settler days, a number of farm precincts were bustling communities, including Dublin, Heun, Maple Creek, Midland, Shell Creek, Tabor, and Wilson; now, most have only a church and/or cemetery to denote their sites. The Mormon Trail, Oregon Trail, and Military Trail followed the banks of the Platte River and were utilized by troops and immigrants. Cattle herds from the Chisholm Trail were shipped from the Schuyler rail yards to markets in the East.

Demographers tell us that, while people are obviously pretty mobile, most don’t really move all that far from where they grew up. Maybe to the next biggest city or something, but still within a cultural comfort zone. So the people who stayed in Schuyler bucked the trend for rural small towns — the trend of the last few generations being that the people graduate high school, go off to college and never return except for holidays and class reunions – Schuyler has actually grown. The population there is now about 6,000, up from 3,600 when I left almost 50 years ago.

My family lived in town but many of my schoolmates grew up on the farm. At that time, through the Fifties and Sixties, it was still viable for somebody to be a family farmer. That lifestyle doesn’t exist any longer. It’s possible but now, for the most part, if somebody wants to have a life on the farm, they are most likely to be, effectively, a sharecropper working for Big Agriculture. The surge in the organic farming movement has made it a bit more possible for somebody to survive with a single-family farm that is more a business than a hobby, but it’s still hard. It’s not dissimilar to how, here in Seattle, the small fishing boats are disappearing, if they are not gone already.

Small towns with a narrow socioeconomic makeup serve as an extended family. But they are suspicious of outsiders. When I was growing up the predominant ethnic heritage was Czech (what was called Bohemian – we hadn ’t heard much about the word Czech and nothing at all of the lower-case meaning of bohemian ). Now, Schuyler is about half Hispanic, a microcosm of America. Guys from rural, Catholic Mexico came straight north to rural, Catholic Nebraska. They took shitty jobs that Anglos didn’t want at the meat-packing plant, for better money than they could make back home. Friends and family followed. From an economic standpoint, it saved the town. There are cultural clashes and stressors but nothing destructive. Some whites don’t like it but others remember that their own grandparents were once non-English-speaking immigrants so there is some tolerance.

Many of us graduated, headed off to life and never looked back. Whether we could have articulated it or not, a life in Schuyler was never going to happen for us. Whether we ended up 60 miles away in Omaha or 1600 miles away in Seattle, it’s all the same. When I sent my RSVP regrets for our most recent class reunion I said that with no relatives in Schuyler anymore, it’s a challenge for me to get back. One of the reunion organizers, Ann (all though school we sat adjacent to each other any time the teacher had the classroom seating arranged alphabetically: Baird, Becker, Bingham, Blazek), commiserated, “We live just 30 miles away in Fremont, and we never get there either.”

Many others have stayed home but moved 15 miles down the road to Columbus, the nearest small city of 25,000. I don’t think many have truly moved away and then moved back but those who have stayed are presumably happy with it. In one way, I get it, that there’s a familiar comfort and steadiness in having known some of your neighbors all your life. I love it as the place I’m from but it’s hard for me to see the attraction of Schuyler, other than the comfort that it is home. But these other folks are not me. If they wanted my lifestyle they would pursue it.

I’m in touch with a handful of my old classmates and in many ways they are more sophisticated in retirement than I am. They are fairly worldly, or at least they have the opportunity. They see the same TV shows and the same internet memes I do. They are always posting about their trips to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden or the Cornhuskers bowl game in San Jose, while I sit home reading my books.

Still more old friends – these from my college days — have stayed in Lincoln, one of those wonderful Midwestern University and State Capital cities. This makes sense. That’s what happens in University towns, people graduate and settle down, whether they are a successful attorney or an overeducated bookstore clerk. I lived there for most of a decade myself after graduating college. In Lincoln, a lot of them are still going to the Zoo Bar a few times a week as if 40 years hadn’t gone by.

Of course, Lincoln is not preserved in amber. It has changed just like any other city: brewpubs, coffee shops, Somali groceries, little delis selling whole smoked chickens hanging in a glass case with a “No English Spoken” sign taped to it.
For dinner, ground-chicken sliders, fried potatoes, salad and fruit salad.

Day 220, Fri Feb 5: It costs me $72.75 for my renewal of my vehicle tabs on my 2009 Honda Fit. In the evening Enid’s book club meets at our house. I know most of the women and like them fine – this group comprises her colleagues from work or former colleagues – but not enough to want any interaction.

I make myself scarce and go downstairs to the bedroom, lie down and read while they nosh, drink their wine, chat about the book. I hear the murmur and laughter from upstairs without any of the details. So that’s good, but the part that works out best for me is that later I get to pick my way through the leftovers they don’t want to cart home, which is very satisfying: cheese & crackers, Caesar salad, chicken satays, baba ganoush, fruit plate.

Day 221, Sat Feb 6: When I dropped off Elena’s lacrosse stick for repair at Breakaway, Rob – the tattooed Australian guy who Elena says is the genius of stick repair (and who knows Elena both by sight and by reputation as a top player and likes her, though you would not gather that from the dyspeptic demeanor with which he delivers all of his customer service) — said he’d have it done by Friday. Yesterday, in other words. As a veteran of many Breakaway jobs over the years I know better than to believe that so I give him an extra day. When I called this morning the Lax Bro who answered the phone couldn’t find it.

There are three equally plausible explanations: 1) it’s not done yet, or 2) the moax didn’t look in the right place, or 3) he didn’t even get up from his chair to go look at all, just put me on hold for a minute and then came back on to say it wasn’t ready yet. Breakaway is notorious for casual service, but equally famous for doing a great job on the actual repairs once they get around to it. And, also, the word on the grapevine is that if you bug Rob about doing a rush job, your stick mysteriously sinks to the bottom of the pile. So I will just cool it.

Day 222, Sun Feb 7: I seem to be waking up earlier lately, more like 7:30 than the 8:30 that has been my habit for months. Maybe it is because winter is turning to spring, the sunrises are earlier, and my bioclock is adapting along with the light.

We stop at Whole Foods to do a mini-shopping with the primary intent of buying a little bottle of their 365 Organic Grade A Maple Syrup (“golden color” it says on the label). We have been Golden Griddle loyalists for years, even with the knowledge that Golden Griddle is the opposite of organic and natural. But when we have tried various “real” maple syrups they never taste as good (tells you something about the addictive contents of Golden Griddle, doesn’t it). Anyway, we decide we will try this new brand on our waffles and pancakes. It turns out that it is delicious and that is all it takes to sweep away our loyalty to Golden Griddle. We’re now Team 365. It’s a new day and a new way; it’s going to be like this from now on.

Day 223, Mon Feb 8: I picked up Elena’s lacrosse stick. In the week that it was in for repair the name of the shop changed from Breakaway to LaxWorld. The sign on the front is changed and everything. It’s a little storefront in a nondescript strip mall just off the edge of downtown Bellevue. In one way location is paramount for the store’s success; in Washington, the hotbeds of the best high-school lacrosse – guys and women’s — are in Seattle’s eastern suburbs. Bellevue High, Issaquah and Mercer Island guys are known powerhouses with national juice. On the girls’ side, the Snoqualmie Conference over here – where Elena played in high school (and her Bellevue East team won it all in 2011) — is just brutally competitive: Eastside Catholic will win the state title later this year, Issaquah won the previous two state crowns, and right before that Lake Sammamish went to three straight championship games and got turned away each time.

So it’s important for LaxWorld to be located at this nexus. But whatever specific building or strip mall they are in doesn’t seem a priority. They’re just across the wide arterial expanse of Northeast 8th from Whole Foods, near the Group Health and Overlake hospitals and the popular dive-bar the Pumphouse. But it’s hard to think there’s any synergy between the businesses.

Really, LaxWorld is a destination. Everybody coming to this shop is coming for one purposeful reason only, to get lacrosse gear. There are not going to be any walk-in impulse buyers. Lacrosse is such a booming sport that the store is thriving and its business will only get better.

After I pick up the stick I drive it straight down to the U of Puget Sound campus to meet Elena. She walks me through the newly renovated fitness center where the athletes do their lifting and conditioning in a big light-filled space. Until this year they lifted in a space with all the ambiance of your garage; in some ways I liked that better. We eat lunch at a nearby Mexican café in the Proctor District. I drop her back on campus for a two o’clock class, run into the student union to use the bathroom, and come out to a dead battery. Triple-A shows up in a half-hour and I am back on the road.

For dinner I make oven-done salmon, roast potatoes, salad.

Day 224, Tue Feb 9: We are having a run of beautiful, warm, sunny days. It is 60-something degrees so I throw open all the doors and treat it like summer. I spent a couple of hours just sitting and letting my thoughts wander with a note pad by my side. I like to do a little focused daydreaming from time to time – ideating or Imagineering it might be called by somebody who didn’t want to be accused of wasting the day away.

That person would not be me, since I’m not worried about being labeled by the outside world. It’s always healthy, fun and today was extremely productive, in all senses.

Dinner is turkey sandwiches, veggie sticks & hummus, and a cheese plate.

Day 225, Wed Feb 10: Aaannnddd . . . rain. I cannot deny that I’ve kind of gone feral since I retired: no haircuts; a daily wardrobe of shorts, T-shirts, hiking socks, runners. It’s true. That’s what I was dressed in as I took care of some errands: I vacuumed the downstairs, fixed the overhead kitchen light (required a run to Home Depot for a circular fluorescent tube) and did a little picking up in the living room. This is the right time of year to start planning how I’m going to trim the fruit trees, and also a good time of year to make a resolution to clean up my workbench.

For supper I made fried rice using some leftover rice from Sunday with corn, edamame and a few other ingredients foraged from the fridge.

Day 226, Thu Feb 11: I don’t feel like I’m too concerned with my fading beauty, but I’m probably as vain as the average guy and doing what I can to forestall the inevitable.
With the Fountain of Youth in mind I have spent some time figuring out what collagen-making, wrinkle-reducing, age-spot lightening product to use to achieve my delusional goals of boyish appearance. Eventually I will settle (for a while) on Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream Accelerated Retinol SA; on the box – but not on the tube itself – it says it also helps even out dark spots. I use Neutrogena shampoo and sometimes we have a bar of Neutrogena soap in the shower, so I’ve got brand confidence. Plus, I had a coupon. Most of these over-the-counter Retin A-style treatment products, though, cost about the same as a Vespa scooter so I have also investigated natural (low-cost) treatments.

A while back, overnight it seemed, a dime-sized reddish discolored spot showed up above my upper lip. This was different from the little red dots everybody acquires as a badge of age. Lemon juice was one of the “natural” “home remedy” suggestions on Google for lightening up something like this. (I know, I know; it was never likely to be effective, but I tried it anyway.) It didn’t help much so in a few weeks I switched to apple cider vinegar. When you Google apple cider vinegar it comes across as an all-purpose miracle substance; you can drink it or rub it on things for various ailments. It may even help with figuring out FAFSA and the Social Security system.

I briefly considered making an appointment to have Dr. McCandless – she has been my doctor for years; she has a good sense of humor and I like her very much — look at my red spot and send me to a dermatology expert who can deal with it. But I came to my senses and realized that it’s not unusual for an older person can get kind of blotchy so I don’t feel any urgency. As it turns out this will be a good call. My red spot pretty much disappears in a month of daily apple cider vinegar treatment.

Anyway, for a while – for a few months — I dabbed the vinegar on my age spots and blotches daily and – you won’t believe this next ridiculous thing — I also daubed on a once-a-week avocado mask or egg-white mask when I thought of it. I was not super-wedded to the regimen and I forgot about as often as I remembered. Still, it’s the least I can do to make this a better world, knowing that other people have to look at my face. I’m not certain if any of this will make a difference but what can it hurt. I’m especially not sure about the avocado mask; it’s not even clear to me whether it is supposed to eliminate wrinkles, make my skin look smoother, tighten me up, or just generally be healthful for my face. As best I can tell, though, a lot of women put avocado on their faces and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me.

I’m trying to stave off the sagging, creased face, but I am cool with one other signifier of my antiquity: I’ve had silver hair since forever. I have never been uncomfortable or self-conscious with the gray hair. I suppose I am covered by the idea that it looks “distinguished.” And I really cannot explain why I am cool with that while the skin discolorations bug me (and the brown spots are my own fault for growing up in an era when we just soaked up the sun all summer long until we burned and peeled). So far the apple cider vinegar hasn’t done much, if anything, to lighten up the spots. Maybe I will stick with anti-wrinkle strategies, where I might be able to claim a few victories.

Overall, I believe in the promise of these collagen-plumping products and one of these days you may find me lurking in the facial care aisle at RiteAid. For now, however, I’m lucky if I remember to smear on some Aveeno lotion after a shower.

Products aside, I’m a good practitioner of one part of the skin-care regimen that’s also good for general health and wellness: hydration. I’m slugging down lots of water.
My skin’s still not super smooth, but it’s worked wonders for increasing the number of times a day I pee.

Dinner is pasta with chicken sausages and a salad.

Day 227, Fri Feb 12: But first, coffee. I buy beans and grind them in a grinder and then the coffee gets made in a regular Black & Decker coffee maker. I like dark and strong coffee but I am not particular about the brand. I will buy Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best.

While drinking a cup this morning I carefully read through a newspaper special section titled “Active Living: Your Guide to the Good Life.” Guess who the demographic target is for that one. I will read almost anything in the paper and I now especially stay heads-up for seniorcentric reports. I draw the line at articles about how to advance my career, or how to survive the workplace, or blog posts with tips about how to get my staff to buy into the company’s mission statement. I used to need that intel for workplace survival. Now I see that stuff and I’m like, uh-uh, no.

Day 228, Sat Feb 13: One thing we like to eat is Feta Slaw. In the summer we grow cabbages, and feta slaw should never be far from your thoughts when you have a dozen heads of cabbage cooling in the garage fridge. The bigger challenge is the feta.
The best we used to buy was Bulgarian feta from Big John’s PFI. This store was in the light-industrial area wedged in between the sports stadiums and the International District. One of those cut-price, bulk item outlets – kind of a mini-Costco jam-packed with products. They didn’t always have the same items from week to week, so you shopped from whatever was available. I have heard that Big John was a prominent guy in the Italian-American community here but Big John’s PFI was by no means exclusively Italian. It always had all kinds of “ethnic” items.

The Bulgarian feta came in a green metal container, kind of a flat irregular oblong shape. I don’t remember if it even had any writing on the outside – it must have, but probably in Bulgarian. I can’t imagine how we knew to buy it the first time; somebody must have tipped us off. There was no lid or obvious opening, no tab or key. A regular can opener could do the job but didn’t fit it very well; the container was too heavy duty and not round. So you basically had to fight your way into it with a can-opener and then pry it with the tip of a screwdriver.

Definitely worth it. Inside was a big hunk of fabulous feta – might have even been a pound of it – swimming in a murky sea of brine. Loved that stuff.

Then once we moved to Bellevue we bought our feta from Oskoo Persian and Mediterranean Market, a little deli in the same complex as the Lake Hills Library and Liebchen Cakes. The Persian place was one of those shops where the customer service is so great and personalized. After about two times, when the shop owner saw us come in he’d head straight for the feta. When they kicked everybody out to remake that strip mall as condos and apartments on top of shops, the Persian guys moved over to the north side near the American Music store and the Harley Davidson shop. I go past there once in a while but I don’t stop any more.

Now we get pretty good feta from the regular grocery stores or the specialty cheese counters. I see that the little container we have in the cheese drawer right now is labeled “Bulgarian Feta” but it seems like a middle-of-the-road version compared to the aggressive Big John’s PFI variety. Maybe now that I’m retired I can go on a feta hunt and make things right again.

Day 229, Sun Feb 14: It rained all day. Enid took me out for a really nice romantic Valentine’s dinner at Firenze, a cute Italian restaurant. I had chicken in a super-heavy cream-and-gorgonzola sauce, she had some kind of lobster pasta. The room was full, our server was really cheerful and efficient. They brought out a rose for Enid (and every other woman, including three grandmas together at a table). I couldn’t tell whether the guys got any kind of special Valentine’s treat. Maybe we got an extra refill of water. We split a slice of lemon cake for dessert.

For Valentine’s I got two books, a Nick Hornby and a thriller. Enid got the new Adele CD. Love will keep us together!

Day 230, Mon Feb 15: It is a beautiful day after several nasty wet ones and a windstorm that knocked out power all over the area, but not here at our place. Power outages aren’t all bad, you know.

Once 25 years ago Enid and I were at the Hood Canal cabin when the power went out. We cooked oysters in the wood heating stove and it was pretty romantic.

Ten years ago on Queen Anne the power went out and stayed out for three days. All three of us (plus Giles, our dog at the time) bundled up and slept in a nest of blankets on the living room floor. We went out to shopping malls during the day to stay warm. The charm wore off pretty quick, though, because we could see the power on and lights bright just two blocks away.

Today I do a little leaf raking and pick up some blow-down sticks and branches in the yard. Then I sit out on a bench on the front deck and smoke a few puffs of bud. Flowers are blooming, or will be shortly, so it’s nice to sit out.

Later, while walking around the neighborhood loop I hear a leaf blower at the play area and wander in. It is a neighbor, Jason, blowing the wet leaves away from the climbing structure for little kids. Because Enid is on the Playfield Committee I know that Jason has been deputized to get this thing into shape. A couple of years ago it was renovated but – very much in the DIY spirit – it got partly done and then abandoned. The result was a play structure that could sort of be played on by little kids but looked only partly fun and partly safe. No, let me rephrase: it looked forbidding and dangerous.

So Jason, who has a couple of little kids and can pretty much fix anything, is in charge of a re-do. He tells me the plan: clean it up because it’s kind of dirty and slimy; replace or cover the bolt-heads that are sticking out to gouge little hands; replace a top deck-to-nowhere so that kids can’t fall off the end; build up the ground level around the lower deck so that the really little ones can clamber up there; leave the climbing netting; leave the short climbing wall with the actual climbing-wall handholds; leave the opening with a hanging bar on the top level so they can swing out dangerously without actually being in any danger; leave the sloping ramp but fill in the gap on the side where kids could step through and get their legs stuck; attach the blue plastic slide to the end where the littlest toddlers can use it. Leave the jungle gym as is but spread some gravel or chips so when somebody falls off they don’t fall straight onto the concrete footings. Also cut some trails through the salal to the fire pit and picnic tables and slide. And cut back the overgrowth in general (while still leaving enough bushes that kids can have little secret getaway spots). Good plan, Jason.

Day 231, Tue Feb 16: We spend the afternoon cleaning up the studio, straightening up the clutter and dusting and vacuuming. Just civilizing it without changing the working-artist nature of it. Enid has a studio visit tomorrow from the manager of the Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Gallery.

This is the gallery that represents the top contemporary Northwest artists. Patrons can rent artworks for a few months and then either buy them or return them for something different. It’s a real coup because it is not an easy door to get through. The gallery only adds about one artist a year and they have a really efficient sales and rental business with a solid customer base of individuals and corporate clients. And, of course, being associated with the Seattle Art Museum in any respect carries huge cachet.

Enid, like many artists, has been an independent operator. It’s a hard gig. For more than 20 years she’s been painting steadily, getting better, selling a few things and having shows – either solo exhibitions or group shows or juried competitions. From time to time she’s been connected with a gallery, other times she’s been a lone operator. Not to state the obvious but it’s a challenge to be an artist. Expressing yourself, perfecting your craft, provoking thoughts and stirring emotions is hard work.

Then, unless you are Emily Dickinson, writing poems and stuffing them away in a drawer, you are also trying to be saleable and get some recognition. Usually, you are a one-person business. You are labor and management and the PR department and billing and collections.

I know a little bit about it; I had a pretty successful freelance writing career with a couple of books in there but I eventually let most of that drop away. It was more important and satisfying to me to work at a job and be a family man.

For Enid this connection is a good validation of her hard and persistent work. And it has the promise to take things to a new level. Before the year is out her work will turn out to be pretty popular at the SAM Gallery, she’ll sell some paintings and make more positive connections in the local art world.

Day 232, Wed Feb 17: Got up. Drank my coffee in one of the mugs I like, a heavy red one with (unusual for me) no logo or slogan. Checked Facebook and emails. Scanned some medical receipts to submit to VEBA for reimbursement (when we got a new printer — which we had to do because Windows 10 was incompatible with the old one [and so far the new one is much much better] – then we had to still keep the old one around because it’s the only thing we have that can scan; I pull it out of a shelf in the closet, plug it in and do the scanning).

Enid is on midwinter break so we drove to a new hiking trail I heard about on Squak Mountain called Margaret’s Way and got more of a workout than we bargained for – I had thought it would be an hour or two so had only brought water, no lunch snacks. It was really pretty and a well-maintained trail but two hours later we were still climbing. There was supposed to be a viewpoint at the top so we kept going thinking maybe every switchback would be the finale. It was like one of those Twilight Zone episodes where the astronauts are abandoned on a desert planet, they walk and walk and finally give up, lie down and die and the camera pulls up to show that right over the next rise is Las Vegas. I finally ran out of steam so we turned around and headed back down, even though Enid got a little testy because she wanted to summit. Solid and pragmatic choice, though, because we got rained on lightly the last five or 10 minutes.

Drove to Issaquah and had a pub-grub lunch at the Issaquah Brewery. Stopped at The Grange and got bags of compost and chicken manure. Came home and dove into bed to take a rest.

Day 233, Thu Feb 18: Here’s some advice, courtesy of Andy Warhol: “Some people let the same problem bother them for years, when they could just say ‘So what?’

Day 234, Fri Feb 19: Submitted 15 more VEBA medical-expense claims that had piled up since summer. VEBA is so mysterious about what they approve and what they reject that I can’t begin to understand it. Luckily I don’t need these medical reimbursements to keep my financial head above water and eventually I will recoup my couple of thousand dollars of reimbursements available to me. When they reject something I don’t even try to figure it out, I just move on. I also sit and try to make some lists and notes about downsizing and selling stuff on Craigslist or Nextdoor, or planning a garage sale.
Dinner: tilapia, rice and some frozen green beans from last summer’s garden.

Day 235, Sat Feb 20: Enid and I went to a free “Companion Planting” gardening seminar at Squak Mountain Nursery. We decided to take a couple of free gardening classes offered by our local water alliance, so I signed us up on Brown Paper Tickets to reserve a couple of spots

The presenter from Seattle Tilth was really good and her info was just right for us. It was about how to plant, say, carrots next to tomatoes for their mutual benefit. Or how to plant certain flowers that repel bad bugs and attract beneficial insects. How it all connects to ladybugs and bees and mason bees.

Came home and I used my little air compressor to fill the tires of two wheelbarrows, then picked up sticks around the yard while Enid worked in the garden. It’s a beautiful day with headline news: the garlic is up!

The garlic gets planted in October or so, overwinters and then is harvested in July. We either hang it up to dry on clotheslines in the studio or just cut off the shoots and store the heads in mesh bags. Like almost everything else you’ve ever stored, it does best in a cool, dry place.

Day 236, Sun Feb 21: Let me just summarize, and I’ll start by reiterating that the specifics of this are going to be different for everybody. I’m talking about either having a retirement lifestyle you can afford or, maybe, bankrolling the retirement life you want to live.

If you’ve made heavy money — jobs with an annual salary of a couple of million bucks — you can probably pay for what you need when you retire (unless you’ve been on the pro athlete savings plan, in which case enjoy the memory of your cars and jewelry).

If you made serious Tubmans — say, 250 grand a year for a long time — you are probably in good shape if you’ve saved and invested wisely.

If your household income was around $100,000 a year – decent money and a level that will ring true for many working professionals – you’ll be set as long as you have saved and invested but you will still not feel all that secure. Just as you did all of your working life, you will keep a worried eye on your accounts now that you’re retired.

If you worked pretty steadily but made less than that – the lower end of middle-class – I hope that you have been pretty frugal all of your adult life and have a lifestyle that is not acquisitive and that you get joy out of the simple things; you can still have a pretty nice nest egg once you reach the end of the line work-wise.

If you did none of those savings strategies and lived paycheck-to-paycheck – or you had a reversal of fortune along the way – and you are just flat-ass broke once you have finished being a nine-to-fiver, then reading about my experience is not going to be very helpful. If you haven’t saved some money, or if you don’t have a financial plan, stop reading this right now and google the location of the nearest food bank. Financial-wise, in that case, there may not be a lot you’ll be able to take away from my story to apply to your own. You still need a retirement strategy, though, and all I can offer is an aphorism about affording your life (or pretty much anything else): it’s never too late to start and it’s always too early to quit.

Day 237, Mon Feb 22: Enid is back to work after mid-winter break so I am rattling around the house by myself.

I have a project. Our mailbox has been wonky lately. It opens but after you take out the mail and close the door, then when you turn the key back to lock it again it balks at turning back. By pushing and turning, pushing and turning, it eventually latches into place. The mailbox is not right at our house, it is in a bank of eight mailboxes with our neighbors. Since we are at the end of the cul-de-sac I have to walk 100 yards or more to the intersection.

The only other time the mailboxes seem to be faulty (other than that time when would-be mailbox thieves screwdrivered all the locks) was during the winter when a water drop got in there and froze. My next-door neighbor Bo and I got out there with one of those long fire-starter lighters and flamed it straight into the keyholes and solved the problem.

This time I’m thinking maybe it just needs a shot of liquid graphite if it’s the keyhole itself that is causing the problem. Or possibly I’ll have to slightly pry it with a screwdriver or hit it with a hammer if the latch has got out of line. When I open it up for triage, it is way less complicated. The key goes into a keyhole but there is no tumbler or anything, just the simplest of mechanisms. It just turns a latch that is horizontal when locked, and then turns vertical to get to an opening and the door opens. The latch got loosened up, causing it to flop down and fail to clear the little frame piece. I tighten the bolt with my fingers – the right tool for the job — which corrects its positioning and, voila, back in business.

For supper, tuna & noodle casserole.

Day 238, Tue Feb 23: In retirement you do have to try to unlearn a lifetime of behaviors — mainly how to not be neurotic. In your career, that can result in productive behavior, but it is not a useful skill once you’re off the clock. Better to be non-neurotic.
I know this but I still obsessively make my lists and – though I’m getting much better about not giving a shit – I still occasionally feel some hangover from my professional days, a low-level sense of anxiety or failure when I have not drawn a line through all of my daily items and therefore have failed to reach my self-imposed productivity goals. Stupid, but there you have it.

Day 239, Wed Feb 24: I’m feeling good about retirement. The financial side of it seems to be working OK and I’m keeping busy with a little of this and that, my walk-taking and salad-making.

Enid doesn’t say anything but she is probably getting fed up with hearing me tell people how wonderful my life is, since she has to keep her shoulder to the wheel for a few more years. I should shut up about that. When people ask me, in her presence, “How you doing?” instead of my current answer, “Great! No remorse!” maybe I’ll switch to “Hanging in there. Adapting.” She gets something out of it: house clean, dinner on the table, and she delegates any paperwork she doesn’t want to deal with over to me. Also, she has a lot of successes in her life, and those are good for my well-being, too.
Elena’s been getting a lot of academic achievements and lacrosse accolades. It’s really gratifying when your kid is smarter than you, and more accomplished. Basking in that reflected glow is an excellent place to be. Since I’m not accomplishing much anymore – nothing that’s going to get recognition – it’s good that I can feel some pride in somebody’s triumphs.

But that’s not really fair to me. Let’s dwell on what I did this past few weeks: fixed the mailbox, attended a gardening class, handled some medical-expense paperwork, cleaned up the studio, took some hikes, enjoyed a sweet Valentine’s Day. Pretty productive. Maybe I’ll make a certificate and present it to myself.

For dinner I made black bean burgers.

Day 240, Thu Feb 25: One adjustment that has to be made when going from the office world to the civilian life is that on beautiful, sunny, 65-degree February days like this one it’s possible to sit outside on a bench on the front patio for a couple of hours doing nothing much.

I got a glass of carrot juice and some clean scrap paper (I recycle the blank side of junk mail) and made a few notes to myself. I listened to the birds chirp. I gazed around randomly at the trees and flowers and clouds. Listened to a nearby murder of crows debate a current event.

This is different. I cannot remember a single time in 40-plus years of working when I was sitting at my desk at the office in the middle of an afternoon and heard birds chirping and cawing.

When I didn’t feel like sitting outside any more I went in, threw open all the doors and sat in there, as if on a screen porch, and jotted a few more notes. You never know what the future may bring and some upcoming days may turn out to be a trial for me, challenging me to come up with “things to do” to avoid boredom. This isn’t one.

As the saying goes, there is no greater pleasure than to do nothing and then rest afterwards.

For dinner, that old standby: roast chicken and veggies.

Day 241, Fri Feb 26: I am trying to live frugally. That’s nothing new; I always have.
Here is one psychological adjustment you’ll confront when you become a member of the nonworking class; almost all of the advice columns will tell you: you’ve spent your entire working life watching your net worth grow and now you have to start watching it decrease. It’s a change, even with the relatively modest amounts for somebody like me.
When I retired I thought I had about six months’ worth of living expenses in “cash on hand” – basically money that had accumulated in my checking and savings accounts. We’ve actually made it past that half-year point and the accounts are not totally drained. So that’s good. Then, the strategy was, we will start living on Enid’s salary and similarly drawing down her bank accounts. This makes her nervous since it’s her money, but that’s our plan. For the record, it does not make me nervous. Also, just clarifying, she and I always kept our own separate bank accounts – that’s not a formula for success for every couple but we made it work.

When we need to we will augment a little by starting to dip into investment accounts. The first target is a retirement account I have from the decade I worked for the City of Seattle back in the Nineties. I will get ahold of them later this year to clarify how much is in there and to start drawing out a monthly nut. With this plan, if I can make it to age 70 – or close, anyway — before pulling the trigger on Social Security, then that will also optimize that revenue stream for the Super Golden Years. Somewhere along in that timeline Enid will retire, too and then we will cash out all of our investments and start buying tickets on the Princess Cruises.

This is the plan, and it seems solid. Still, we are in uncharted territory so we can’t help but keep thinking about it, returning to it, turning it over to check the various angles.
For dinner, beans & chicken tortillas made with the leftover beans and chicken from earlier in the week.

Day 242, Sat Feb 27: With the breakfast biscuits we open a jar of homemade plum jam we got from an elderly family friend, Henri. We thought we had just recently started a jar of cherry jam but we couldn’t find it in the fridge; either all eaten up already or buried somewhere in the deepest recesses.

Henri is kind of a hero to us in the category of our life that is about gardening, preserving, sustainability, independence, and permaculture. His family is lifetime family friends of Enid’s family. He and Lu live not too far from us and Fabienne, who is Enid’s age, is in Alaska but still in touch. Henri is, I am guessing, close to 90. Henri is tall and Lu is short. He and Lu plant and maintain an extensive garden and then preserve everything.

Henri is an engineer and has a hands-on approach to life. He will build anything. Lots of people will build things, but when Henri builds them they work. For example, he has cool food storage systems such as vast wire racks in their house’s basement for potatoes. He’s a beekeeper. Like I said, he made the jam we ate on biscuits this morning.

He is Swiss and he likes to speak French with Enid and Elena. He’s got a good sense of humor. Enid says that Lu once told her that they don’t have garbage service because they produce almost no waste. First, they don’t buy that much stuff and they avoid over-packaging. They compost everything (including bones; they’ve got an anti-raccoon system [of course]). What they can’t compost, they recycle. And then, every so often as needed, Henri takes a bag of the trash that couldn’t be handled in their internal systems and disposes of it. We think we are doing something with storing our cabbages and garlic, making tomato sauce and chicken stock. Our reusing and recycling. We bow down to Henri. Live lightly.

Day 243, Sun Feb 28: My intention is to be a good person.

The result, as it plays out in real life, is that I do everything I can to avoid religion, whether organized or disorganized. I’ve got what you could probably call beliefs, of course. Who doesn’t? That thing that people say – “I’m spiritual but not religious” – I’m carrying a dab of that. In the old days people used to call it secular humanism, but I’m not even interested in climbing into that box. I’m on the atheist side of agnosticism. I just truly do not know if any of them are telling the true story. I imagine that if somebody who knew all about all of the religions sat me down and quizzed me, they would tell me all the places where I am snagging up bits and pieces of philosophy and theology. That’ll never happen.

I was raised in the small-town Catholic church, so that may tell you all you need to know. There are a lot of recovering Catholics out here. My mom was an ardent participant; she went to mass not just on Sundays but the early-morning weekday sessions, too. She definitely got something important out of it, maybe the support she needed to face her life raising six kids in Schuyler, Nebraska. She did her best to rope the rest of us into it. When we’d pile into the station wagon for a trip to Omaha, we’d always lead off by saying the rosary; that would get us as far as Rogers or North Bend before we could start playing the alphabet game. My mom and dad would have been Democrats politically, but the heavy dose of faith bombarded us with reactionary religious politics. My sister Monica says the main effect of the Catholic extremism in our childhood home was to speed her on the path to dropping any connection with organized religion as soon as possible.

Me too, plus, personally, I’ve racked up plenty of credit in my account, so I may yet get into Heaven if this is the way they’re actually keeping score: 18 years of Sunday mass; Stations of the Cross during Lent; too many Hail Marys to count as penance for confessing my youthful sins. Some of my sins, anyway. And I was an altar boy which had the primary effect of giving me backstage access similar to Toto pulling back the Wizard’s curtain.

In short, I had plenty of opportunity to drink the Catholic Kool Ade. I dug the pageantry, the sensory overload of incense, ringing bells, flickering candles, colorful robes, incantatory Latin chants. Not so much the guilt. But more to the point, I never – even as a little kid – actually believed any of it. And that’s what it’s about, no? Belief.

We all know people who bounce from ism to ism, seeking to fill some hole in their life and provide guidance. Lutheran, Bahaii, transcendentalism, heroin, Buddhism, wiccan, Aleister Crowley, Facebook memes. I hope they all find something that works for them and I know that sometimes it does. I have a friend who posts on Facebook about his Thelemic beliefs – you even know what that is? Because I didn’t.” As best I can tell – and this will make them mad to see my shallow description, but this is what it looks like from the outside — it’s kind of like nice Satanism. Weird, but no more so than Catholicism.

I also know many people who enjoy going to church for the social aspect of getting together with a group, having a community, or singing in the choir. All legit, in my view, just not for me.

So I stay on the outside of that. Possibly I miss out on spiritual solace in this life or eternal happiness in the next, but there’s a trade-off: an adult lifetime of sleeping in on Sunday mornings. And times change. This is another area where I used to feel like I was a bit of a maverick, and now I find out I’m solidly mainstream. I recently read somewhere that the Number One religion for Americans is now “No Religious Affiliation.”“

Day 244, Mon Feb 29: It’s Leap Day and I am feeling good that I am getting the bonus day as a retirement lagniappe and not wasting it working.

I walked away last July – eight months now — and didn’t look back. I liked work fine but I had been on the chain gang since I was knee-high, and I had been more than a decade in the job running the marketing and communications shop at Bellevue College. After more than a decade there I wasn’t burned out but I was definitely bored.

Once it was clear that we were OK on the financial side of things I asked myself what did I want out of life: 1) simplify, 2) control, 3) deeper meaning. Was I getting any of that out of work? Uh, no.

Now, more than half a year after I emigrated from the productive life, I haven’t had retiree’s remorse, though apparently some people do. I have no problem filling up the 40-50-60 hours a week that I used to spend on the job. I’ve barely kept in touch. I’ve seen a few folks I knew from campus at the grocery store or wherever. I have looked at the college website a handful of times and I see when they post something on their Facebook every other week or so. I got an invitation to an emeritus staff luncheon but it is way too soon for that kind of reconnection – if it will ever be the right time. Probably someday I will want to re-touch bases with the place. But if I really wanted to stay connected I would still be working there.

Last fall one of my former colleagues – he sat in the office right next door to me and we were quite sympatico — called and left a message about wanting to get together for lunch. I’m ashamed to say I never returned the call. And this is a guy I like.

I live fairly near campus so I drive past the main entrance on 148th and see what they are promoting on the time-and-temp reader board: concerts, plays, basketball games. I read every word of our local free weekly, The Bellevue Reporter, so I see the rare occasions when the college makes the news. This is a place I worked at for 11 years.

Before I retired out of there I honestly did not know if I would have separation issues. It turns out that I have a normal low level of curiosity but a nearly-zero level of genuine interest in what’s going on there. So, since I walked I haven’t missed it. I guess I was ready.