Retirement – Month Nine, March

Just Quit Already!
Day-by-day through Year One of Retirement
March

Day 245, Tue Mar 1: Tidying up, I found a couple of gift cards and went online to check if they still had any value on them. Not sure where either of them came from. The Visa card had $4.17 and the Verizon had $38.32. Found money! You need to keep your eye out for every penny when you’re retired. But when I try to use the Verizon gift card to pay our Verizon bill, it won’t let me. When I enter the card number in the bill-paying process, it says it is not enough money on the card to cover the bill, which is true. And there doesn’t seem to be any way to pay partially with the card’s $38.32 and then cover the remainder with a regular credit card payment. It’s all or nothing. Thanks for the gift, Verizon. Is that even legal? So, instead, Enid will use the gift card when she goes into a Verizon shop to upgrade her phone one of these days.

Day 246, Wed Mar 2: It’s Elena’s 21st birthday. Having a daughter makes a man more of a complete person. If you’re the dad of a daughter there are only a few things you have to keep in play. First, be at her side and back her up unreservedly on everything. And then when she doesn’t need or want that any more , just keep on doing it but from one step back and with your mouth shut. Try to teach her the essentials: how to shoot free throws, put air in the tires, play those “Louie Louie” chords. Remind her, first do what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and third work on the impossible because it will take a little while. When you get knocked down, get back up. You know what’s been said, right? A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out into the world.

Day 247, Thu Mar 3: Enid’s mom drove through the front window of Marcy Jewelers over by Whole Foods. It was raining and she was set to back out of her parking space and the next thing you know she was over the sidewalk and into the store. Window glass, smashed display cases and jewelry everywhere. At least it broke up the monotony of the day for the people working there. The only injuries were embarrassment and being too shook up to drive, so Enid bounced over there from work to calm everybody down and then be the chauffeur.

She said the cop on the scene was being really courteous and solicitous when she got there. As were the people in the jewelry store. As were the people in the little bank branch next door. Enid drove her mom home in her mom’s car. Then I drove to Hepsie’s place in Newport Hills to pick up Enid and drive her back to retrieve her car at the jewelry store lot (they were already replacing the window glass). And over the next few weeks while the car was in the shop (scratched up from the glass) Enid got pressed into driving duty.

In another month this will lead to a mini-crisis that many folks our age have to deal with when mom or dad’s driving has to be confronted. Her mom’s insurance company notifies her they will no longer carry her. From their view you can see it: she’s 90-years-old and she’s had a handful of bodywork claims over the past year or so – all minor fender-benders, but still. It’s true that every time she has a door ding she takes it into the shop to get smoothed out and puts in the insurance claim, so Pemco likely has this charted as a pretty active accident history. From our view, her driving is still OK as long as she stays off the freeway. We see these accidents as minor bumps that are not an indicator that she’s a real danger to herself or anybody else. Besides that, it’s good for her to have the freedom of being able to drive herself, or at least to have the option.

The best news is that Pemco refers her to another insurance agent, with Progressive, who apparently specializes in older drivers. Because her mom doesn’t have email or any way to enroll online, or to pay with an e-transfer, Enid gets involved. Like lots of people with aging parents, Enid is already a co-account holder on her mom’s bank accounts and just recently set up an online access and got a debit card – for her own convenience since her mom will never use these features. (Whenever her mom needed cash, instead of going to an ATM she would drive to the bank branch, go in to the teller window and withdraw cash. She was on an extreme first-name basis with a personal banker there, Bev.) The new insurance agent is genuinely super-nice, solicitous and helpful at every stage. No doubt he’s seen it all before. The insurance premium is straightforward: an arm and a leg.

In just a couple of years she will decide to give up driving, all on her own. Lots of sandwich-generation people our age have a tough struggle with getting an aging parent to give up the car keys (and, of course, we will reach that point ourselves in a few decades), but it never gets that far in this case. We’ll sell her car and then, of course, have to figure out how she will get around. Enid will start going over there once a week and taking her to errands and appointments, she has home aides a few days a week who can help her get around, she doesn’t have a smart phone so Uber is a non-starter, and we will look up a bunch of elder-ride services. But for now, the dents will get ironed out and she’ll be back on the road.

This car-through-the-window story would be kind of funny on its own, but there is more. Thirty years ago my own mom drove through the front of Bryan’s Rexall Drug in downtown Schuyler. Guess what they had on display. You’re right: glassware. There was a picture of the aftermath on the front page of the Schuyler Sun. Once my mom got over the embarrassment she thought it was funny. “I looked up and Mister Bryan was standing in the doorway waving his arms,” she said. I wonder when I will drive through the plate glass window of a business. Or maybe this is just a women thing and I wouldn’t understand. Elena is already assuming that she will drive through a store window at some time in her life.

Day 248, Fri Mar 4: When you read the online posts about how to save a little on your household budget in retirement (or any time, for that matter) at the top of the list is to cut down on restaurant meals. We’re pretty good at this.

Sometimes, though, it’s not a good idea to put pressure on yourself to cook at home – for the sake of your mental health. When everybody in our household was either working or in school, Friday night dinner was the time for delivery pizza or Chinese or takeout of some kind. We liked the gyros and Greek salad and fries from Greek Express at Factoria, with the same nice woman always running the cash register. We were usually so exhausted that we felt like we should just declare victory that we had made it to the end of the week and not spoil the celebration by trying to cook dinner. Plus, the take-out food was good.

Now that I’m retired, I’ve got time to make dinner every night, including Friday. I’m good for it most of the time but sometimes if I just don’t feel like making dinner, then I just don’t. I’m a decent cook, the second-best in our house right now. Enid likes to cook and is a great cook. So I give her the opportunity on weekends and vacation weeks. And, also, sometimes still if we feel like picking up dinner on the way home, we do it. We’re not that hard-core about it.

The home-cooked meals are healthier, too, but this post started out as a household-budget topic, so let’s do the arithmetic. If all we do is take a pass on weekly Friday night pizza orders at, let’s say conservatively, $30 a week, and, instead, make Friday night dinner for $10, that’s a difference of $20 a week. That’s $1000 a year in our pocket. Kaching.

Day 249, Sat Mar 5: Like the meme says, Everything happens for a reason; sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions. I broke the toaster. I dropped in little triangular wedges of pita bread to toast, which immediately fell sideways through the thin rack wires in there and then messed up everything when I yanked them out. That never happened before. I guess toasters are delicate. The good news is that we went over to Bed Bath & Beyond at Crossroads for a replacement and after buying a retro-styled toaster we walked around and window shopped. Then, just when you think it’s a routine day, things got more exciting: It was Day of The Accordion on the Crossroads stage. All accordion bands, all day long.

Day 250, Sun Mar 6: Loggers Win!!! We drove to Tacoma to watch the University of Puget Sound Loggers lacrosse team claim a victory over the Linfield Wildcats.

One of the things I’ve done since Elena started playing lacrosse for the University of Puget Sound is to organize and run a little fan support group, Logger Lax Fans, which is mainly a Facebook group. That first year there was nothing like this, they kind of played in a vacuum. This is Division 3 women’s lacrosse, after all. So while women’s lacrosse is the best game, the sport is booming, and Puget Sound has had a varsity team for a decade, it’s not exactly ingrained in popular or campus culture. On the national sports scene, it’s still a bit under the radar. Like, way under.

Anyway, Logger Lax Fans (meaning me, with a few other parents or supporters who pitch in) does the Facebook page and a website and tries to pump up the spirit, plus provide any appropriate behind-the-scenes support for the program, like helping to organize the end-of-season potluck awards banquet.

I’ve tried to keep involved all along in Elena’s sports. I believe in sports as a good way to learn all kinds of lessons about hard work and overcoming adversity and all that stuff. I would never say life is like sports, but let’s face it, life is like sports. You get knocked down and you get up again. Sometimes it’s not fair. The best team doesn’t always win. You get better both by having success and by facing down adversity. The beauty of teamwork on a scripted play, and the beauty of individual creativity within the plan. And sometimes everything clicks together and a team makes a magical, epic run. They can’t be beat.

Enid and I both used to take her to swimming lessons and gymnastics. When she was playing grade-school soccer for the Slug Bugs, I stayed out of it (except to yell too much from the sidelines). Later, I was the assistant coach to Gina on the Electric Gumballs, the third-through-fifth grade basketball team. Gina expected a lot out of them and, as a result, they expected a lot from themselves. That team was really good and a lot of fun. They ran to the City semifinals the fifth-grade year, until they crashed into a team of steroid-poppers who took them out.

One time on the bench in the middle of an Electric Gumballs game a player said, “Coach Bart, can I ask you a question?” “Sure.” “If I cut my tongue down the middle do you think it will grow back?” Like I say, sports is a lot like life.

Day 251, Mon Mar 7: We are finally able to schedule a birthday dinner with Elena.

We were not able to connect with her on the day itself but she reports that she was well celebrated during the day and then her friends took her out to a couple of places she couldn’t get into before when she was a minor: Red Hot and Dirty Oscar’s Annex. Red Hot specializes in all kinds of hot dogs and, to her delight, the guy at the door checks her ID without comment and then brings her a complimentary drink.

Tonight we go to Marrow, an upscale-casual bistro on Sixth, just a few blocks from campus, cozy sophisticated ambience, with maybe a dozen tables and a bar. Elena has a sidecar and Enid and I have wine. We split a cheese plate. I have the fried chicken (excellent) and they have crab pasta and risotto. We split a piece of red velvet cake. Cost for dinner: $116.07. We give Elena a nice silver bracelet and a box of Thin Mints and a card that plays mariachi music when she opens it in the restaurant. She also gets a card and a check from her grandmother. She’s in the middle of mid-terms so after dinner we drop her back off on campus at the library.

An adult now, she is an A+ human being and, while the credit goes to her, it makes me feel good. She is way smarter than me (which I find extremely gratifying) and a much more focused student than I ever was. But, even given my casual attitude towards studies when I was in college, I’m glad I’m not banging on midterms this week.

Now that I mention it, I seem to have purged school anxiety from my subconscious. It’s been some years since I’ve had the dream where I show up for the final and it’s like “Oops, forgot to go to class all semester.” Or the one where I’m in the hallway but none of the doors looks familiar like it’s the one to my class I’m supposed to be attending.

Day 252, Tue Mar 8: This is the time f year to spend a little time picking up blow-down sticks in the yard, trimming up and getting prepped for spring and summer. Time to pay our neighborhood dues. Time to give the car a deep cleaning. To make a list for getting in a handyman or any more ambitious fix-ups around the house. To sharpen the hand tools. To make the appointment to get the windows washed. To check bank balances.

In the evening I do another civic duty – this one from the “act locally” column — and we attend the semi-annual meeting and potluck of the co-op where we have our cabin. The cabin is two hours’ drive away, on Hood Canal, but the meeting, happily, is always held at a Unitarian Church 10 minutes from our house. We sit at a table with David & Iona and Henri & Luiza.

The meeting is a little under-attended and the presentations are all informational, not requiring any community vote. These include our yearly dues info (we pay $1600 which includes our Mason County property taxes and fees and expenses from the co-op association), a status report by a cabin owner about a driveway he is having graded in to his place, a report about a leak in the water system, a discussion about buying new front-gate padlocks to replace the current ones which are kind of grimy and not always easily operable, a strategy discussion about how to carry out diplomacy and get our way in a mini (so far) boundary dispute with our neighbors the Boy Scouts (they’ve put their vast property up for sale and their surveying revealed a different boundary line than the co-op had previously identified; this process will move forward extremely slowly over the next few years), and a reminder that the Work Party is coming up on Memorial Day Weekend Saturday. I made a huge salad for the potluck.

Day 253, Wed Mar 9: Today, we have a little flurry of excitement in our neighborhood.

We have a neighborhood group-texting thing set up that we mainly use when the cops have set up a radar trap on 150th on the way down the hill. Whoever sees them first can text about it and the rest of us are warned to slow down and can avoid a ticket. (Sometimes. Community members report that they still get tickets; when they leave home they know about the speed trap, but by the time they’ve driven 10 blocks their mind has wandered and they are doing 35 in a 25 mph zone.) Occasionally people will also text in wildlife sightings of coyote or bobcat in the back yard.

Today a family in the neighborhood, Patrick and Courtney, while they were at work, saw on their security camera that a car was parked at the top of their driveway and three people were taking photos of their house. They sent a text about it and a couple of folks who were at home got the license plate number and also talked to the intruders, with real-time messages about what was going on. Before it was over, there were 50-plus various comments in the text-string (mostly helpful, but some just cracking jokes). It turned out legit – the visitors were researching mid-century modern homes for a publisher. (Homes in our neighborhood are sometimes featured in write-ups about mid-century architecture. Our own house, for example, was in 425 Magazine once.) The editorial team in today’s hubbub was a little naïve about showing up unannounced and taking photos of private property. But it was good to see the community crowd-sourced security system spring into action.

Tonight, I made tuna melts, potato salad and fruit salad for dinner.

Day 254, Thu Mar 10: A fairly typical day, in many ways. Woke up and got up at 7:30 after a somewhat fitful night. In the past few months it seems that I wake up more often in the night, or at least for longer periods. Or in any event I am more aware of it. I was in bed last night reading by 8:30 and turned out the lights by 10:30.

On rising I do this thing where I sit on the edge of the bed and trace the alphabet with movements of each foot-and-ankle; not exactly sure of the benefits but probably something to do with flexibility or balance. Then I stand up and balance on each leg in front of the mirror for 10-20-30 seconds followed by a little all-purpose stretching. Some days, especially when it’s too rainy to go out walking, I have a whole body-weight-and-flexibility routine: pushups, crunches, planks, curls, various stretches and movements.

It is Thursday, laundry day, so I throw in a load and will run washer-and-dryer loads until the dirty laundry is done and at least in a mound on the music room floor, if not folded and put away. Last week’s laundry is folded there, but still not put away – we are used to getting dressed from the piles on the floor.

I come upstairs and drink a glass of water (actually the blue and white Bellevue East Lacrosse coffee mug full, and I will try to rehydrate throughout the day). I start a pot of coffee and sit at the regular desktop computer to check Facebook, Instagram, email and a bunch of sites in my favorites such as Nextdoor.

I eat three slices of banana bread, take my daily multivitamin, baby aspirin, fish oil, glucosamine chondroitin & MSM complex, and chewable Acidophilus and Bifidum (“One Billion Organisms!”). This is all the supplements I’m taking right now but sometimes I have several others. Back a few decades when I worked for the Seattle Office of Housing, for a while we were in cubicles, not offices, and my supplement habit was notorious among my workmates. They would hear my desk drawer slide open and then the rattling of multiple bottles.

I brush my teeth and put in a Whitestrips. At about 9:30 I get out the vacuum cleaner and run it around the TV room and up the hallway – I meant to do this yesterday when I was cleaning up, Wednesday is housecleaning day on my schedule — but didn’t want to disturb Nadia then, who was sleeping in her TV-room chair. And, actually, today when I was lying on my stomach to dust under the couch I realized that I was dusting the cat; she likes to go under there because there is a heating vent. I clean out the litter boxes (we have one upstairs and one downstairs), which also should have been done yesterday. Oh, well, these things happen.

I realize that I’m missing some papers I need that I had on the floor by the side of the bed. I’m pretty sure that in my cleaning frenzy yesterday I threw them into the recycling along with the newspapers, so I will go up and dig through that. Thursday is normally a yardwork day, but it is raining, so I will punt on that activity. The rain may also put the kibosh on taking a walk. On Tuesday I trimmed back all the shrubbery that was lightly encroaching on the steps down to the house, so I have not totally abrogated on the yardwork front this week. In case you wondered if I was feeling guilty. I’m not.

At 10 I finally take a shower and get dressed for the day, run some more laundry, take some recycling up to the recycling bin, sit down for 10 minutes and read the paper, nuke some bean soup from a few nights ago for lunch. At noon I turn on the Washington Huskies men’s basketball game in the Pac 12 tournament and get my tax return papers organized while watching, so that I can get them to our tax return guy, Mitch. Yesterday I had picked up and straightened up the office/TV room while watching their first-round win, so the conference tournaments have been good for double-tasking. At 5 o‘clock I watch my Cornhuskers upset Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament.

Enid had told me not to make supper, that she would make cabbage rolls. She came home from work and was good to her word.

Day 255, Fri Mar 11: It’s my little sister Geralyn’s birthday so I send her an email with best wishes.

I remember (sort of, barely) when she was born; it was the middle of the night when dad gathered us all around his and mom’s bed to tell us the news. That was a good night. She responds with thanks and tells me she and her husband Rich are in the Virgin Islands.

In 10 days it will be my older sister Monica’s birthday and when I send the Happy Birthday email to her she will tell me she is off to Santiago, Chile, where her daughter, Liz, lives.

We were six kids in our family, four girls and two boys. And I’m one of the boys. I am second-to-youngest. My siblings think I was always babied by my mom, and maybe that is true. My two oldest sisters, Ann and Mary (Ann was 10 years older than me, Mary eight), are deceased. We are like lots of families: we are scattered; two in Chicago, me in Seattle, Pete in Las Vegas and San Diego; various grown nephews and nieces are in Omaha, Bloomington, Santiago, Las Vegas.

As somebody said, the secret to happiness is a large and loving family. Living in another city.

For the time being we stay in touch the best we can via Facebook and email but don’t see each other often. Or at least that’s the way I stay in touch with them; maybe they chat with each other daily. I mostly have the basics on what’s going on in their lives, the activities of them and their kids, and so on. So we’re good but we are not like one of those families who all live on the same block. Busy lives (even for the retirees), grown kids, grandkids and little grandnieces or something (what are the kids of your niece, anyway?).

I last saw everybody at Mary’s funeral in Omaha a few years ago. Around that time, Geralyn and Rich swung by for an afternoon when they were in Vancouver. I want to stay more in touch as I get older, and Elena wants to know her extended family and, by knowing them, understand herself a little bit better. So I’ve made a few attempts to organize an informal family reunion but it got too complicated to coordinate so we let it slide. Elena and I have talked about making a Grand Tour sometime, swinging by Las Vegas, Chicago, Omaha. Maybe that will happen. (We do take a trip to Nebraska to see cousins/nieces in Omaha and visit the cemetery in Schuyler; when Elena graduates from college we manage to organize a wonderful family reunion here in Bellevue.)

Day 256, Sat Mar 12: Not to put a saturnine tint on your rosy day, but if you have retired and you haven’t already made your will and other arrangements for when you’re dead and gone, do it now. Because you will be dead and gone some day. A lot of entries in this book are crazy conjecture and biased opinion, but that is a fact.

Go to a lawyer you trust, don’t do it yourself. It’s easy, but you want an expert handling it, even if it is straightforward. And that’s especially important if your estate is complicated or you have anything unusual about your heirs or the way you want to leave your legacy. As best as possible, that’s a piece of paperwork you want to have in order. Our next-door neighbor Marilyn is an attorney, so she did ours for us.

On the general topic of death and dying, don’t be obsessive but don’t be in denial. When you get a little older you have pretty regular intimations of mortality. News flash: everybody is born, they live, and they die. My mom always said that when somebody dies, don’t grieve too much but, instead, celebrate the life. Good call, mom.

Day 257, Sun Mar 13: I meant to get started on this next project several times, but now I really mean it. (Have you heard the one about the guy who was going to downsize and declutter? It’s hilarious.)

I want to get organized so that I can get going again on selling off some of our random extraneous stuff through Craigslist or Nextdoor. I keep thinking about it, but not really doing anything about it. When we first moved in we inherited a bunch of left-behind furniture and household items and workbench tools that I would never use. A lot of it was in good shape (though, also, a lot of it was not and got targeted straight for the trash). It filled the garage and we parked on the street for a few months.

Gradually we sold off some of it – enough so we could park the cars, anyway. I probably made $500, a few dollars at a time. Besides the money, it was fun to go through the old stuff and see what we had, and it was fun to hear the plans the purchasers had for it. Once we got things under control I took a hiatus but now I have it on my mind again. Some of the items are still there from that initial batch of things and some is stuff that I will cull from our own inventory – things we just aren’t going to use.

Most of these are everyday objects: a jar of nails, a hanger draped with neckties. But I also own, just for one example, an extensive library of music-theme books from when I was writing about music in the ‘70s and ‘80s; these are now vintage if now antique. So I want to research if any have value beyond a plain old used-book price. I know that most will not, but some may.

Decluttering is a big trend right now so there are lots of books and blogs to guide the process and spark joy. My downsizing strategy is to first try to triage, get organized, and sell what I can on Craigslist. Then in a year or two I will try a garage sale. I don’t know anything about e-Bay, but I hear that is a profitable way to go if you have any items with a little bit of value. And then we will turn to specialty antique shops or auction houses if the research indicates we have something of truly rare value. We’ve actually had some luck with that strategy on a few items in the past.

This is one thing I have in common with just about everybody: I’ve got tons of shit I do want to keep, things that I’ve acquired thoughtfully, stored purposefully and do not want to discard. Artifacts from my life that are meaningful to me. But I’ve also got a lifetime’s worth of unneeded and unwanted and, frankly, extremely-puzzling-as-to-why-I-ever-had-it-in-the-first-place stuff. And then there are the – oh, let’s just focus on one category – produce bags full of pens, pencils, markers. There’s no emotional connection, but I can justify where one bag-full can be a handy inventory item. The other two bags-full are something else.

Goal One is to simplify and get organized and downsize and clear out the storage. I have no illusions; this could take a decade. I start – no big surprise – by making a list. There is no particular priority, so I just start in. I clean out the sports closet. I go through all the jpgs and print the ones I want at Bartells and then put them in three-ring binders. I transfer some old cassette tapes of my old bands to digital format (I have several false starts but eventually I make it happen) and then toss the extraneous cassettes. I haul “garage sale” stuff up to the garage and construct big piles back in the corners. Making a little money is also an objective, but it’s a distant secondary goal that will provide a fun way to keep score.

Day 258, Mon Mar 14: I went to the Factoria Sportclips and I got a haircut. This is notable because I hadn’t had a trim since I retired last June. Nine months, no haircut.

The last couple of decades when I was working I had a nice business haircut that got refreshed every five weeks. I was a shirt and tie guy, so I felt like I should keep it clean. I bounced around to a few different haircutters over the decades and ended up for the last couple of years with Luba at Salon Tewl.

Now, it’s getting shaggy but unfortunately not really creating a good windblown effect that I had hoped for. It’s like a haircut version of that time on Queen Anne when I let the little piece of yard between the sidewalk and the street go unmowed and tossed in some wildflower seeds thinking we’d have a cool natural area. It just looked like some moax hadn’t mowed the lawn.

Occasionally people have been commenting on my hairdo. Always women. Only women. I don’t know whether guys understand, if they “get it” (although I’m not sure what there is to get, since I’m not intending to make a statement; I’m just not getting my hair cut), or – quite likely — if they just don’t even notice. Then there is my frugality; when I was working I was paying $50 for my monthly haircuts at Salon Tewl (and totally worth it) but that’s not in my budget anymore.

Last week we were downtown walking to the Mediterranean Kitchen for a spicy supper and we passed a new haircutting place just off Downtown Park being readied for its grand opening. Barber shop or salon, I’m not sure which; the sign in the window announced that it was for men, women, kids. On their upcoming opening day they were giving out free haircuts. Elena knows me too well; she said, “If anything’s going to get dad in for a haircut, it’s a free offer.” We laughed. Ha ha. Hysterical.

But 10 months of just letting it branch can create a hairdo situation. I was starting to have a low-level annoyance with the comments everybody would make. On the one hand, I partly understand that they couldn’t hold back their outburst, especially if they hadn’t seen me for a year. What did I expect? But I guess I’m just too much of a sensitive soul for everybody to weigh in on my appearance. These weren’t even cracks or criticisms (well, some were), just remarks. And they weren’t crushing blows, just irritating.

I have curly silver hair, so if I heard one more comparison to Einstein I was about ready to go relativistic on somebody’s ass. More than any of that, though, I started feeling like it’s my head, my hair, so back off. Make comments about your own hairdo.

Without intending to, I found myself in possession of a Sportclips coupon to get $4 off their $16 haircut (touché, Elena, your point about my parsimony was right, you just had the wrong barbershop). I sprang into action. I told the haircutter (Taylor, I think) my sad story about people remarking and bugging me about my hair. I showed her a picture of my Facebook profile with my old tight business haircut. I explained some of my styles through the years, revealed my admiration for the haircuts young black guys are wearing now – fades on the sides with the long top and back – and might have mentioned something about a rat tail. She set to work.

Forty-five minutes later I walked out of Sportclips with a sweet mullet. Business in the front, party in the back. Not braggin’, just sayin’.

Day 259, Tue Mar 15: I picked up Enid’s “cloud” painting from the show at Blakely Hall and took a walk in the Issaquah Highlands.

The Highlands is a planned community a half-hour from us that has everything from apartment houses and condos to brownstones with stoops to smaller homes to – the farther out you go – megamansions. There are lots of park spaces, an elementary school, soccer fields, walking trails. A business district with the same franchise shops you see everywhere.

I thought the idea was creepy in a Stepford Wives kind of way until I actually saw the Highlands. In reality, it’s a really livable family-friendly community design and its only problem is that it still feels brand new, even though some of the areas have been there for a decade. In another 10 or 15 years, once it has worn in, I think it will be more than desirable. When we decide to get out of our current place, I could see moving into a cottage in a neighborhood like the Highlands.

When I got home I picked up sticks and raked up leaves in the yard. I sat around and went through some paperwork with sun streaming through the windows. At 6 o’clock I watched the entertaining UW Huskies men’s team in the NIT; they scored 107 points in their win.

For supper, I made rice & beans in tortillas. Four Thin Mints and a glass of milk for dessert.

Day 260, Wed Mar 16: I made vegetable broth, as I do from time to time.

Here’s the deal: whenever I am making veggies for dinner, when I cut off the unusable butt end, I put it in a plastic bag in the freezer. (I do the same thing with chicken bones, to make chicken broth; and when lemons are squeezed out I stick them in the freezer until the next time I need zest or I make roast chicken; then they go into the cavity and get stuffed up under the skin). For the broth, when the plastic bag gets full, everything just gets dumped into a big sauce pan full of water, boiled and simmered for 3-4 hours, strained (the filtered out bits go into the compost pile and eventually on the garden) and decanted into jars for freezing. It’s a good idea to put some salt or other spices in there – otherwise it can end up tasting too much like root vegetables, and not entirely in a good way.

This is tasty if it’s made with remnants of store-bought veggies, but even better if they’ve come from the garden. Then the circle is completed: garden to table to frozen veggie-slag, to broth, to compost to garden.

I get a big kick out of making this broth. I suppose it taps into many facets of my being; equal parts The Thrifty Swedish Housewife, Sustainable Living On a One-Acre Farm, Micro-locavorianism, and Use Every Part of the Buffalo.

Tonight, I purposed the veggie broth as the base to make veggie soup. Just keeping it all in the family.

Day 261, Thu Mar 17: I drive into Seattle to meet with Mitch, our tax preparer at TaxPro. For me, getting it done this early, a month early, is really something. Most years I have not got it together until April, and some years we have filed an extension.

His office used to be in Pioneer Square until they moved to Fisherman’s Terminal a few years ago. Both locations are fun to visit for me.

Pioneer Square is the old original downtown of Seattle. It’s got the ancient stone buildings, the pods of summer tourists being led along by guides on the Underground Tour, the perennially-going-out-of-business rug shops. Pioneer Square sits right between the financial district — and the stores like Nordstrom and Barney’s and the hotels like the Four Seasons – and the sports stadia, Century Link and Safeco fields. Every other decade the neighborhood bottoms out and passes the tipping point of anticivility: homeless people, petty criminals, frat-bro bars and people pissing on the stairs like they don’t care. Then the city will act surprised, form a blue ribbon panel to study the problem and there will be a little upswing. A few art galleries will open. Maybe at Mardi Gras you’ll be able to pay one price to get into all of the bars and clubs. It’ll show promise. Then the pendulum will swing back. Right now it’s pretty down-market.

Fisherman’s Terminal, my new tax-prep location, is 15 minutes north of downtown, in Interbay between Magnolia and Queen Anne and across the canal from Ballard. It’s where the smaller family-owned fishing boats harbor, except now that business is pretty much dead for the small businessperson. Most of the boats moored here now are pleasure craft. Still, it’s a working waterfront and there are a few businesses to serve the folks toiling in the industry: a bank branch, a barbershop, my tax preparer. While I’m there today, my man Mitch takes a phone call and says to the person on the other end, “your return is going to be the same but it’s going to show you made less income; is that what you expected?” and he apparently hears “Yes” in response.

We pay them about $500 a year to prepare our taxes and, to me, it’s worth it. When we started using them some 25 years ago our returns were a complicated situation and things like Turbo Tax didn’t exist. I was working a regular job, also maintaining a personal business freelance writing and for a period had a partnership business with a couple of guys as a side hustle. So I had overlapping income streams and was writing off home-office expenses. Nothing unique about that, lots of people have similar set-ups, but it was more than I was confident that my own tax-prep skills could handle. Actually, once I got past the EZ Form I started getting uncomfortable. Now our return includes Enid’s income from her regular job, our investments, the costs of maintaining a kid in college, and Enid’s art business is starting to trend upwards with a revenue stream and expenses.

So our tax return has returned to being pretty simple – not EZ but basic so I could probably do it myself with one of the tax programs. That’s all Mitch’s office does, after all, feed my data into a program (although since our situation is in flux there is a good ancillary benefit, to be able to go in and sit down and bounce things off of him and get his knowledgeable feedback). All things considered, I feel way more relaxed having an expert pro have a go at it for me.

For one thing, I have this idea that the IRS probably is less likely to audit a return that has had a professional’s fingerprints on it. Not that we try to slide anything past. On the contrary, we’re honest and we try to be scrupulous about it so if any audit ever turned up inconsistencies they would be of the most minor category. And our income is modest, so it hardly shows any red flags. But, still, we do not need the agro of any kind of communication with the tax trolls.

And then there is just the reality that working on tax returns is not my happy place. It tests the limits of all Enid and I can do just to keep a folder of receipts all year long, amass our various 1098 forms, and go back through our check registers and credit card history to fill in the workbook that Mitch sends us.

Some years I just drop off the packet because it is a repeat of the previous year. This year, obviously, I want to sit down with him to discuss his tax perspective tips and strategies for our new reality. To get any retirement-specific advice moving forward. So he will earn his $500 this year.

While I am in the neighborhood, I stop at the Wild Salmon at Fisherman’s Terminal and get $30 worth of the salmon jerky they make that is our favorite. And on my way home I detour a mile over to our old neighborhood and take a walk in the Queen Anne business district. A few familiar shops are still there – Queen Anne Books, El Diablo Coffee – but we’ve been gone for eight years, so much has changed. There’s a distilled alcohol place where we used to buy ice cream, an Emerald City Smoothies in the other place we used to buy ice cream. I wonder where people buy and ice cream cone on Queen Anne.

Day 262, Fri Mar 18: Made a smoothie for breakfast, then sat down with it to take care of some business.

I had a few bits of additional info to get to the Tax Man to complete our filing (a signed and scanned form for e-filing authorization, some info about Elena’s tuition from U of Puget Sound). So I emailed those off first thing this morning.

Stopped at the library. Took a walk from the Coal Creek Trailhead to Newport High School through the forest (I have walked from my place to this trailhead in past, bushwhacking from my backyard into the Somerset Highland Greenbelt and then following trails south). The creek is sizable here and running full of water. My walk is not a lot of distance – 3.5 miles – but really up and down – 60 floors on my Health tracker. In a handful of places the trail is muddy and you have to portage around the worst of it, clambering through the weeds and up the little bank lining the path. I only have one mishap and end up with one muddy and wet shoe.

Back home, I mowed the front and back lawn in the afternoon after things dried out a little.

I didn’t feel like cooking so when Enid got home we went over to Greek Express at Factoria for gyros, Greek Salad and an order of fries.

Day 263, Sat Mar 19: We spent the morning cutting and trimming and hauling branches as part of the annual Neighborhood Playfield Work Party.

Enid and I and some of our neighbors were a team assigned to the southwest corner, near the basketball court and tennis court. Much of what we did, though, was not on the interior playfield side of the trees and shrubs, but on the outside along the road. It was overgrown, messy, unsightly. Three or four of us worked that section and made a substantial dent, then cleaned up the basketball court area. We just piled the branches along the road and somebody came along later with a chipper and chipped them up.

Others worked on different parts of the field – it looked like a tree or two came down near the petanque court and got hauled over to the fire pit as firewood rounds. We weren’t involved, but the main task for the day was to trim up and clean up the little kids play area. I realized after I got home from the lunch that was provided that I forgot to even look at the playground to see the progress. These work parties are a nice community bonding activity in every way and it’s a bonus when work actually gets done.

When I get home I watched the UW women’s basketball team win their NCAA tournament game over Penn. If Enid comes in from working in the garden I will see if she wants to go grocery shopping. Otherwise we will see what we can put together for dinner from what we have on hand. Have Gonzaga basketball followed by Sounders soccer on my viewing schedule for tonight.

Day 264, Sun Mar 20: Enid: “I made broccoli soup for lunch, the perfect lunch for a winter day.” Me: “It’s the first day of Spring.” #springinthepacificnorthwest.

Day 265, Mon Mar 21: Finished up the last few bits of the tax return: scanned and signed a form and uploaded it to the Smart Vault site, so they can e-file it. I should see the return in my checking account at some point.

On the personal well-being front, I’ve been feeling like I need to recommit to my exercise routine, my walking. I haven’t been as diligent in the past few weeks and I’m feeling guilty. I’ve been less regular partly because the weather was too rainy for a while, and partly because, I don’t know, maybe it’s getting stale. I’m not consciously bored with it but I’ll see if I can find some new routes or some way to pep it up. A friend has devised a crow-behavior-observation project to keep his walks interesting, maybe I need to cook up something like that.

Or maybe I should diversify my workouts. I could pump up the air in the bike tires and take off (though I am worried I might fall, and I’m not a fan of falling down). I think about that for a while and then, instead of walking, in the middle of the afternoon, I watched the UW women’s basketball team continue their great run in the tournament.

Led by their nonpareil relentless and inventive scorer Kelsey Plum and the wonderfully unconventional forward Chantel Osahor, they have been turning a good-but-not-great regular season into something special here in the postseason. In the end they will swagger all the way to the Final Four before their mojo runs out, giant-slaying higher-ranked squads all the way, becoming the darlings of the basketball world and delighting commentators with their confidence, joy and idiosyncratic creative play. They basically play their starters the whole game, with maybe one sub. I’ve been following them all season and they are paying off my fan loyalty with this exhilarating tournament performance. They look like they were born for this moment. Today, they take down the Two Seed in their section of the bracket and the nationally-ranked Number 5, Maryland.

As Plum says to reporters afterwards, “We’re always the underdog, always overlooked. What does Coach say? The Sixth Beatle?”

Day 266, Tue Mar 22: I moved eight bags of chicken manure that we had dumped at the curb, wheelbarrowing them down to the garden. The wheel on the wheelbarrow was a little wonky so I fixed it. The most useful tool for this job was a hammer.

Since I’ve been meaning to get back to more exercise, and since it’s not raining, I drove a few miles to what we still call “Matthew’s” on Lakemont (a year ago the name changed to Country Market but it will take us years to get around to calling it that – if ever), and walked from there up the Lakemont Trail. Not a huge distance at 3.5 miles, but 44 floors of elevation.

Big salad for lunch chased with a bowl of the trail mix that I mix for myself from bags of bulk nuts and dried fruit.

I send Elena a message with a video of the Cactus Blossoms doing “Crazy Arms.” She likes it and says that when she played it, You Tube also offered up videos of the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, which she also likes. It was cloudy earlier but the sun is in play at 1 o’clock so my plan is to go out and pick up sticks, twigs and branches that are all over the yard after last week’s big wind storm. I’ll put them in my refurbished wheelbarrow. It’s like new.

For supper I made tagine – Moroccan vegetable stew.

Day 267, Wed Mar 23: Since I retired, I’m more aware of my sleep habits and how they change from time to time.

As winter turns to spring I’ve been consistently waking up a little earlier, between 7 and 8. Maybe this is because I’ve been going to bed at 8 or 9, reading for a while and turning out the lights by 10. Or maybe it’s because it’s spring and – since I’m not setting any alarm clocks – my natural sleep rhythms are moving away from a hibernation pattern and into something else. And then maybe it’s because it gets light earlier outside and we don’t have any curtains on the bedroom windows, so that’s having an effect. (Enid sometimes wears a sleep mask; I can pretty much fall asleep with the klieg lights on, no problem.)

For basically the first six months after I retired I woke up at about 9 o’clock, no matter when I went to sleep. When I was salaried and chronically sleep-deprived I would sometimes even lie down and fall asleep for a nap. Now I still like to stretch out on the couch during the day or in bed on top of the quilt to read but I almost never actually fall asleep. Sometimes, but it’s rare. I believe in naps, and the rejuvenating effect and everything. I just don’t fall asleep on demand.

I did check out a library book on napping, thinking it might have a few tips that would improve my quality of life. Or that I might learn a new skill: how to fall asleep at will. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I was looking for since it was all about how taking a nap can make you more productive at work, and I was actually looking for another way to be lazy, not more productive. Nevertheless, in its discussion of sleeping patterns it said that it’s not unusual for a 70-year-old (I’m 65, but I’ll just roll with this) to go to bed at 7 or 8 in the evening and wake up at 5 am. And also to get tired again from 1-4 pm, which could be partly geriatric slumber patterns and partly the after-lunch coma that can cause you to fade at any age. So, I got 99 problems but a nap ain’t one.

Like everybody clicking past various use-by dates, I wake up in the night – and not only to pee (though that, too), but for slightly prolonged periods. It turns out that this is somewhat natural for people who are sleeping without alarm clocks; you revert back towards pre-industrial sleep patterns. Some cultures call it First Sleep and Second Sleep. Some folks, when they wake in the middle of the night, get up and do something for a while. I don’t do an activity, I just stay in bed but sometimes I have a pretty extended period of random thoughts.

I am also probably a lighter sleeper now rather than the Dead Sleeper when I was working and my subconscious was grabbing on to every bit of recharging it could get. Now it seems that I’m more likely to pop awake from sounds in the night from inside or outside the house or even if Enid takes some sonorous breaths.

Sometimes when I get up at 7:15 Nadia – who has no trouble taking naps at any time of day or night — comes slinking out from under my bed where she has apparently created a pretty posh environment for herself.

Tonight, well before bedtime, I make breakfast for dinner: sausage, veggie and egg scramble.

Day 268, Thu Mar 24: Enid wrote a check for our neighborhood association annual assessment of $1,200. The charge basically covers everything from administration to swimming pool expenses to community lands and playfield maintenance. All homeowners here take care of their own acre but we also have community property that needs to get mowed and trimmed – the playfield, picnic area, fire pit and walking trails. Community members do some of it with work parties, but not all. We have this as a yearly household expense, and also $1600 for our cabin community at Hood Canal, which has similar expenses, though the details are different.

Day 269, Fri Mar 25: What do they say? When you injure yourself sleeping, you know you’re old? It’s a joke, just not one of the funnier ones.

I skronked my back and I’m moving gingerly. This is the price I pay for my ancestors evolving to walk upright; there’s a good and a bad side to everything. There are a lot of ways this could happen to anybody and one way it could have happened to me is that I did it while dusting. When I make the misjudgment of telling Elena, she thinks that is pretty comical and when she passes it along to her friends they think it is hilarious. Laugh now, Grasshoppers, and check back with me in 45 years.

On the other hand, some chronic health problems clear up in retirement. For three decades I had a knot in my upper back, in the shoulder blade area just off my neck. It was from a combination of sitting in front of a computer screen all day with my head jutting forward and the stress that I balled up and stored in that area of my body. A couple of times over the years I went in and got a physical therapy routine, or a reminder about posture, but none of it really worked. It actually didn’t hurt while I was sitting there at work but sometimes it would flare up and come home to roost when I was trying to get comfortable and fall asleep at night. I have realized lately that I don’t have that painful malady any more, thanks to an absence of stress and more limited computer-posture. It’s amazing what unexpected benefits can come along with a lifestyle change.

Day 270, Sat Mar 26: It’s always good to have a few recreational vices you can turn to.

I’ve been smoking a little weed every few weeks or so, or sometimes every few months. A few puffs. I used to enjoy smoking it back in the day so I had figured it would be fun again now that it’s legal. It turns out that on the Pleasure Meter it is OK, very enjoyable but not the big joyfest I had imagined. I bought the mellow-style bud, so I try to smoke in the late afternoon and then have nothing much productive planned. It’s effective enough that it will interfere with any attempts to be super-productive or meet a deadline. I sit around and read or jot down notes or just daydream.

Along similar lines, I drink a glass of wine most nights with dinner but, as with the pot (the grass, the chronic, the ganja), if I don’t do it I don’t miss it. I used to like red wine, now I like white better in the last few years. We found a bottle of port in the cupboard at the cabin last winter – I had forgotten all about port and it was really good.

For years I drank heavy beers. In 1992, at the advent of the craft brewing thing I wrote a book about the phenomenon called “Seattle Brews.” I liked them and for the next two decades I was a beer drinker. I mostly liked the darkest porters and stouts. I’d drink a beer a day for pleasure. Then I looked up and I was 60 not 40, and the darkest porters and stouts did not exactly sync up with the elderly-gentleman metabolism. So I quit. Now sometimes I will drink one of those stubby little Coronas in the summer or I will have a beer if I am at a party and there is a cooler full of beverages, but I no longer buy a six-pack every Sunday.

And I pretty much quit bread at the same time for the same reason. Not that it’s a vice just that it’s fattening. I will eat a slice of bread or peanut-butter-toast or English muffin if we are having egg sandwiches for breakfast but mostly it is nada on the bread. If I make burgers I have mine just on the plate, no bun. In terms of other ingestible recreational pleasures I don’t eat many desserts or candy anyway, so that is not really an issue.

I drink almost no real alcohol. Last summer we had the Rum & Plum situation which was very good and satisfying. I would drink a gin & tonic if I had either gin or tonic in the house. I used to enjoy a high-powered pear brandy we would buy at the holiday season so maybe I will try that again some time.

Day 271, Sun Mar 27: Toughen up your exterior. Open your heart. Ignore the haters. Know your league. Stay ready. Keep moving.

Day 272, Mon Mar 28: It should be obvious by now that I take walks. That’s healthy. Or at least I like to think so.

All this walking that I’ve been describing, I enjoy it but I am doing it because it’s good for me. I don’t want to just sit on the couch and blow up like Mr. Creosote. The fitness part, I figure it makes my life both longer and wider.

I’ve got a bunch of walking trails and routes and I like to mix them up for variety. Every once in a while I try a new one. Sometimes I don’t have a plan, I just start walking and see where I go. As the saying goes, I’m never lost but sometimes I don’t know where I am. Some days my biggest challenge in my whole day is to decide where I will go to take my walk. No joke.

Maybe I need to get more businesslike, compile my list of good places for walking and hiking. Maybe make a little website. Talk about trail conditions, sights you see, elevation gain, distance you can go, other users of the trail, bathrooms available.

At the start of the year I started my “Took a walk, saw this” Instagram project. Every day I take a photo and post it, and a couple of times a week I also post to Facebook. Without even trying I’ve picked up a handful of new Instagram followers – not people I knew before. On Facebook (and to a lesser extent on Instagram) I have a little group who will like the posts: Alexandra, David J, Jude, Lanson, Cat, Joan, David, Diana and several others. This is nice to have this virtual walking group.

For one thing, most of the time I don’t want to walk with a real group. That would only work if they walked at my pace and talked about only things I wanted to talk about. There are a million walking groups and meet-ups, as a way for folks to get exercise and be sociable. And yet, I still walk alone.

Maybe in a few years I will change and join a Volksmarch. Stranger things have happened. But for now I prefer to go alone. I like to walk with Enid because we’ve got things to talk about. Every several months I will walk with Enid and Jim Agnew. He’s great company and in super-fit shape. I have done a group walk with a Bellevue Park Ranger, but it wasn’t great.

Because I’m walking so much, and enjoying exploring both familiar and unfamiliar trails and routes, my behavior is altered. I find myself actually clicking through listicles like National Geographic’s “World’s Best Hikes” and taking time to answer the City of Bellevue’s survey about walking around the city, so they can identify “trouble spots” and fix them up.

I run across a New York Times blog that reports on a scientific study that suggests that walking in nature changes the brain in positive ways – that nature walkers have lower levels of stress hormones. This is a good thing if it’s true and I really want to believe it since a lot of my walks are on paths through wooded greenbelts (although many of my walks are also alongside heavy traffic). My favorite sentence about how we might occupy our time while walking was: “Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives.” Heh, morbid rumination.

Day 273, Tue Mar 29: It’s a good time of year to think about whether or not to change out the furnace filter.

For dinner, I sautéed some chicken sausages with veggies (onions, carrots, kale) and made both a big regular salad and a fruit salad.

Day 274, Wed Mar 30: Woke up a little after 7. In the next few years I will evolve to sleeping from 11 or midnight to 8 or 9 in the morning, but today it is 7am. Got up and did my light first-thing-in-the-morning-stretching and balancing. Enid came in from running and got ready for work. Her school is in what they call Focus Week — and next week is Spring Break — so she doesn’t have to be there until 8 o’clock instead of 7:15. Next year they are bumping back the start time to 8:15 to better accommodate teens’ sleep cycles so she will be on an 8 o’clock start. Good news for her: more sleep. Probable bad news: more traffic both morning and afternoon. For breakfast, she fried up the leftover sausages from last night and some eggs before she headed off to work.

I had my morning glass of water and two cups of coffee. I checked my Facebook and emails, emptied and reloaded the dishwasher and ran it, vacuumed upstairs and downstairs, changed out the kitty litter. At 11 I ate the last piece of cold Pagliacci pizza left over from the weekend plus a little container of salad and a little container of fruit salad from last night’s dinner. I guess that is what’s called brunch. Took 10 minutes to paint the handrail at the very top of our steps, it was weathering and peeling.

After lunch I drove up north of Bridle Trails to snoop around another cottage community in Redmond. Enid and I looked at one other a month ago and we have something like this in mind as a possibility when we downsize in another 10 years. Maybe by then we will want something in a retirement-village model, or a version of cohousing. For now it’s just fun window-shopping. I walked up on the porch of a house for sale and peeped in the windows. It looks absolutely livable.

This whole development is really cute and appealing, like the one we looked at earlier in Kirkland. Though, while we would want a place that is pretty quiet, this place is eerily calm. As in, I see almost no signs of life at noon on a weekday. The one actual human I come across says he doesn’t even live there; he’s just storing some stuff in a friend’s garage. I was going to walk from here but I can’t find a walking trail and there is not even a sidewalk along the main arterial out front, just a narrow bike lane. It’s not near anything. That’s like where we live now – remote — and one of our big checkmarks for our eventual situation is to be able to walk or bike to shops. So, unless some amenities move in next door over the coming decade, this “pocket community”, as it is marketed, will never make our cut even though the cottages themselves are cool.

Since I couldn’t figure out how to walk from here, I drove back to Bellevue, parked at Fred Meyer and walked along Bel Red Road a couple of miles, looping around where they are developing the new Spring District. Back at home I ate an apple, some cheese and crackers and drank a lot of water. Hopped in and out of the shower. Sat out on the deck with a glass of wine. That’s a full day.

Day 275, Thu Mar 31: Another beautiful day. Did a bunch of things around the house and yard. Returned a door handle to the Lowe’s in Issaquah next to PCC (it was the wrong item for our screen door) and from there walked a half-mile to Sammamish State Park and then another six miles within the park.

Made dinner out of the larder. Burritos without the tortillas: rice, Cuban beans (with fajita spice, curry powder, paprika), fried onions and red pepper, mashed avocado, grated mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes. Salsa for those who want it (this means Enid; I don’t like salsa). White wine. For dessert: a Kind bar and a glass of milk.