Just Quit Already!
Day-by-day through Year One of retirement.
Day 1, Wed July 1: Changed out the kitty litter, tied up some sprawling tomato plants with green twine, and went swimming for a couple of hours at our neighborhood pool a few blocks from home. I am digging this retirement gig.
Day 2, Thu July 2: Got up, puttered around listening to David Lindley’s “El Rayo X” CD, half-organized my various passwords for my online stuff, half-organized my Favorites. Along the same lines, one of these days I intend to clean up the junk drawer and straighten out the hand tools in my toolbox. “One of These Days” would be a good retirement motto. Instead, I took a nap.
In the afternoon Elena and I drove over to the field at Wilburton Park with the lacrosse sticks but couldn’t get the goals unlocked from the fence so we played catch and, really, just talked. It is 95 degrees – crazy hot for Seattle — so we are the only idiots out there. It’s fun, and a dad-and-daughter activity we’ve been doing all of her life, with one sport or another. There are two main places for a dad to find out about the important things going on with his daughter. One is throwing or kicking or hitting or shooting a ball around. Sometimes we actually talk about the things she has on her mind, which is good. Sometimes we talk about everything but, which can be even better. The other place is in the car after dark, driving home from practice or a game. If dad can mostly shut up and just chip in an idea or two, that’s when real intimate stuff gets sorted out. She knows that she should listen to what I say, but make up her own mind about what to do.
After supper, everybody else went someplace so I’m the only one home, sitting in front of the fan and half-watching the Mariners’ game on TV. I’m feeling pretty content, not least because we ate outside on the front deck; oven-fried chicken, corn on the cob, tomato slices and mozzarella.
Day 3, Fri July 3: Oy! It’s hot in here! “Hot in hurr,” Nelly would say. I was already sweating at 9:30 in the morning. Everybody’s talking about how un-Seattle-like it is. Crazy thing, lots of past Fourth of July parties we’ve had to pull on parkas while eating our popsicles. The three-day holiday weekend starts today, which for me kicks off a three-thousand-day permanent vacation. For now, though, it’s 4 in the afternoon so Enid and I will take a walk and I’ll try to time things out so that I’m on the couch in a couple of hours to watch a couple of games. As it will turn out: Sounders Win! Mariners Win!
Day 4, Sat July 4: I put on an album (when I say “album” or “record” I mean CD; I missed the whole I-Pod era and digital and I-Tunes is way too much hassle – I have zero music on my phone, and almost none on my computer) of miscellaneous Nigerian Afro-Beat from the 70s –it was either that or John Phillip Sousa, right? — made a big breakfast fruit salad, drank a couple of cups of coffee, checked off a few little house chores, and we drove 20 minutes across town to Marymoor Park for our walk.
Marymoor is a huge 640-acre expanse that was probably once a freestanding natural area out in the boonies. Now it is smack in the middle of the city of Redmond, the next contiguous suburb northeast of Bellevue. It is set up for every kind of activity, including taking a walk. We clocked an hour, so about four miles. Parked by the vast soccer fields, walked past where they play cricket, the climbing wall, the velodrome, all the way to the bridge near where they fly the remote-controlled planes, then doubled back through the 40-acre dog park, along the steps on the river where the dogs dive in to swim (and lots of people were wading in there today, too), past the cottonwoods where herons are nesting and alongside the outdoor concert amphitheater. I joked that this is where you see Willie Nelson or the Doobie Brothers, but it turned out that it is actually where you see the Alabama Shakes next week, so good job, Marymoor.
Day 5, Sun July 5: Simple things, am I right? We get up and skim both Sunday papers, Seattle Times and New York Times, dawdling over breakfast I made of fried up onions and potatoes and turkey sausage and eggs. I like to read the actual paper, not the online. Remember a few years ago when everybody was getting a Kindle and “Books Are Dead” was happening? That played out pretty quick, almost faster than when I-Pods bloomed and died.
I skipped Kindles the same way I avoided the whole I-Pod Era. Procrastination, mainly, I just never got around to it. I never felt any big empty space in my life because of it. And somehow, ironically, Kindles and I-Pods are now looking even more obsolete than me. I don’t have anything against people reading on their devices, it’s just not my choice. I find it difficult to even read a simple article on the computer or I-Pad or on my phone. I’ll do it but I won’t like it. Anyway, that whole Kindle-mania has changed around now, bookstores are back in style and all the people who were ever going to jump for Kindle have done it. The rest of us prefer the perfumed enchantment of the book merchant’s, the paper version of the newspaper and of magazines. Sure, you can break into my happy daydream to remind me that newspaper readership is still declining, but I’ll argue back that the readers aren’t to blame. That’s newspapers’ own fault for being terrible.
And yet, I read the paper. I suppose one factor is that I worked for newspapers in my first career. But more than that, it’s just habitual. Also, for me, another main element is a peculiar one: I like to skip around when I’m reading. This works better in a linear book-style format rather than scrolling online (it’s probably one reason that, when printing technology came along several centuries ago, scrolls gave way to codexes and then books). Modern technology tries to force us into scrolling, but it’s not perfect by a long shot. Sometimes, with hard copy, I even start reading at the back and work my way in reverse all the way to the first page. Actually, this is pretty much the only way I read magazines, there’s no “sometimes” about it. But other times I just dip in here and there, and once in a while I startle myself when I begin at the beginning and finish at the end.
Moreover, and this is not the biggest check-mark but it’s something that matters to me: I work the crossword for fun. And that is only satisfying when done in ink in the hard-copy paper. I tried a crossword app on the I-Pad and it super-sucked; it did not anticipate or accommodate any of my crossword-solving idiosyncrasies that I have evolved over decades. Like working my way from the upper left corner to the lower right as quickly and directly as I can with connected answers. And only then going back and filling in the rest of the grid. Or solving the clues around the perimeter of the puzzle first before moving to the interior. I had thought that my crosswording was just a private lifelong past-time that I would carry into retirement, but apparently it is something more overt. My mom-in-law has given me crossword books as gifts. For quite a while I rocked a black and white New York Times crossword T-shirt that I got from some loved one. One of Elena’s pals, writing in the day book at our cabin, thanked us for the visit (we hadn’t been there with them) and drolly commented that she felt she had gotten to know me a little bit “through your books, music, half-finished crossword puzzles.” I have no interest in entering competitions or timing myself. I am a total hobbyist, in it for pleasure. I don’t want to create crosswords, just solve them. There are times when I think, “I could have come up with a cleverer clue than that,” but I let it go. I’m the person who finishes the crossword and contentedly moves on to Word Jumble. Geekishly, I do have favorite puzzle-constructors (here, learn something: they are called cruciverbalists, as are people skilled in solving puzzles). Talking to you, Brendan Emmett Quigley.
Our cat Nadia likes to go down to the garden in the lower yard with Enid to take dust baths (Enid doesn’t take the dust baths, just Nadia). She loves this because she is an indoor cat, and the garden is fenced to keep out critters – and keep in cats — so she can roam free down there chasing bugs and hiding under leaves. Today I go along and pick a big bowlful of raspberries, eating every tenth one or so fresh off the vine; enough to fill a Ziploc bag for freezing for next winter and still have plenty to eat fresh with cheesecake for dessert tonight and on cereal with nectarines for breakfast tomorrow. This is enjoyable to me, and I will enjoy it again in December when I pull them out of the freezer. I do the same with blackberries. The raspberry canes are cultivated in the garden. The blackberries grow wild – both native blackberries and Himalayan – and they are the opposite of cultivated. They basically take over the yard with their relentless strategy of sending out impenetrable thickets of thorny runners. They can easily win the battle against human efforts to tame them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that plump wild blackberries taste exquisite. You can eat them fresh, freeze them for later or cook them up in a tart with a braided top crust.
There are some peas in the garden, too, kind of withered from the heat but this is possibly my favorite of all the garden veggies so I crack a few pods and dig out the contents. As always, they are delicious. We’ve been eating garden lettuce, radishes, broccoli and kohlrabi. Nice little onions – about half-fist sized – are coming out of the ground. I hand-water the cherry tomatoes which are planted in a different spot, in a raised bed against the south-facing back of the house where they get the benefit of reflected heat from the concrete block wall. A few Cabbage White butterflies are fluttering, dragonflies are zipping. I set the sprinkler to catch the flower bed. In case I wasn’t clear, all of these little agricultural tasks are pleasurable to me.
Day 6, Mon July 6: Low-key morning: newspapers, coffee and OJ, Joe’s O’s cereal with raspberries, blueberries and nectarines. I squirted out some of this new malto stuff I got onto Nadia’s food dish, it’s supposed to prevent your cat from getting hairballs. I can hear Elena playing guitar downstairs, obviously scrolling through some kind of old-school songbook, likely titled “100 Country Hits, Chords & Lyrics”: Faith Hill’s “Breathe,” Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” Waylon’s “Luckenbach Texas.”
Nadia is sleeping in her chair in the sunny back room that does double duty for TV watching and office work. I ran a bunch of errands: library, bank, notary, post office, Bartells drugstore.
Around noonish, Elena and I went over to Lewis Creek Park. It’s a mile as the crow flies and four as we drive it. She ran a couple of miles hard and I walked two, hard, around the perimeter and through the cat tail swamps on the boardwalk. Then we drove the few blocks down the street to the Cougar Mountain Red Town Trailhead near our house and hiked four miles with plenty of elevation climb, about an hour-and-a-half all told. It was really a wonderful ramble through a beautiful forest, and a real good workout for me. It’s coolish and overcast. I’m wearing cargo shorts and a black Wailers T-shirt. We took a backpack with some nectarines and Kind Bars and trail mix and water and sat on boulders for a snack break at the point where we turned around and started back down.
On the way driving home we bounce around the radio settings from Wiz Khalifa, who we both like, to “Don’t Stop Believing,” which we both mock, to Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which is apparently meant as an all-ages singalong. In the next few years she will graduate college, get a job in Walla Walla, move back for a job in Tacoma and move on to graduate school. We never get tired of breaking into singalongs.
In the later afternoon, we headed over to Crossroads Cinema to watch “Jurassic World” (Senior Discount saves a dollar on admission). Elena has already seen this movie when she was in Borneo, where the audience laughed uproariously at parts that didn’t strike an American as funny at all, like when Chinese businessmen met a grisly fate. The plot, as if you don’t know: lots of action and special effects as rogue dinosaurs kill humans until the good humans finally win the day. I really don’t go to the movies any more or even watch too many films at home. It’s a little too expensive and the films aren’t usually all that great. It’s one of those things I got out of the habit on. While watching TV I will sit still for parts of “Pulp Fiction” or “Ghostbusters” or “Men In Black” when I surf over them, but that’s about it. I’ve seen most of “Ocean’s Eleven” now, spread over about 10 different mini-viewings. There was a time when I was a real cinema buff, but that time is not now, it was three or four decades ago. I can tell you a lot about Werner Herzog films, not so much about Duane The Rock Johnson movies.
Later still, at 11 at night, Elena and I sprawl on the couch and watch “Terminator II” on TV. Plot: lots of action and special effects as rogue terminators kill humans until the good humans finally win the day. We poke fun at it for an hour or so — a lot of solid father-daughter bonding — until Arnold asks John Connor why humans cry. That crosses our line of tolerance for mawkish movie idiocy and it’s our signal to turn it off and head to bed. On another night later in the week we will watch the last half-hour of “Maleficent,” which was enjoyable viewing. We stumbled across a James Bond Week on a channel that was showing both some of the original Sean Connerys and a couple of the Daniel Craigs.
All are good, especially when experienced from the comfort of my own couch.
In between “Jurassic World” and “Terminator II” we had chicken wings and drumettes grilled outside for dinner.
Day 7, Tue July 7: I mowed the back yard slope. It may not seem like much but it’s a workout for me; 45 minutes of dragging the mower up and down the hill and I’m sweating at the end. The yard tractor failed to start a few months ago and I haven’t had the repair guy out yet. I will have to push the tractor from my lower yard up the hill to the driveway where he can get at it, so that’s not top priority right now. I mowed the whole shebang a month ago with the electric mower (and twice on the lawn right near the house) and now it’s a nature meadow out there. Since it is super dry, the lawn itself has gone dormant, but I still feel like I should give the rest of it a trim, if only to beat down the dandelions. We live on an acre and, while a lot of it is covered with trees and native plants – salal and mahonia and ferns — there’s still a lot of lawn. Last time it took me two separate days of a few hours each to git ‘er done. I also plug together two 50-foot extension cords and get my electric weed whacker to the farthest corners of the yard to take down the rough out there. This is a good time of year to do any cutting on smallish trees around the yard.
Enid came home from helping her mom get her dinged-up car into the body shop, and made a wonderful refreshing shrimp-and-avocado salad for lunch. I know some people are reading this and thinking, “Gawd, that’s what I’ve got to look forward to in retirement?” Not the shrimp salad, which anybody would like, but the mowing and errands and to-do lists. The answer is yes. But it gets more exciting, check this out: I boiled up some chicken bones from last night’s wings and drumettes for chicken stock that we freeze for use later.
While Enid was up painting in the studio, I intended to fold a big pile of laundry that was sitting in the middle of the downstairs music room right by the closet with the washer and dryer. Alas (yes, I wrote “alas”), Nadia had made a little nest and was sleeping there, so that couldn’t happen. You know how coaches always say to control the things you can control and don’t worry about the rest? If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, there’s no point worrying. The laundry situation is out of my control so I’m going to let it go. But I can still influence some other things, like what kind of cold drink I’ll have. Lemonade is the answer to that.
Day 8, Wed July 8: There are different ways of being well-off, right? You can have a lot of money. Or you can feel good about yourself. Not mutually exclusive, of course. For the past few years – ever since I got serious about retiring – I’ve been reading the books and articles about how to do it right. I’m not putting any pressure on myself, but I’d rather succeed than fail. A Forbes listicle on Facebook said these are the factors for a happy retirement. For the moment, we’ll assume Forbes is on top of things. I just started retirement, but let’s see how I’m doing:
1. See your children or grandchildren. I talk, text or message with my college-age daughter regularly, and see her often. Since I both like her and love her, it’s true that this gives me great joy and will continue to add meaning to my life. The bigger point here, of course, is that family connections, communication and social involvement are all healthy. My own family – my brother and sisters – gets along fine but we’re scattered and we have our own lives so we don’t get together too often. We’re not one of those families that talks every day. Or every month. Occasionally an email or a birthday remembrance, but that’s about it. My older sister is pretty active on Facebook, so I get regular glimpses of her life, but not for my other sister and brother. Mostly when we get together it’s a niece or nephew’s wedding or – unfortunately more often lately (it goes with our age) – a funeral. So when Elena graduates from college in a few years we use the occasion to have a family reunion. A few husbands and nieces can’t make it, but otherwise we get a full attendance. One of those table-for-23 events. It is just wonderful in every way, for everybody. For Elena it’s a way to meet a family she hasn’t really known, to get some context for why she is the way she is, and to know that she’s got a couple of dozen people who’ve got her back, in a way she just hadn’t known before. For me, and I think for my siblings, it’s a chance to reconnect and it feels real natural. It’s a chance to have a lot of laughs. At dinner one of the nights I am off to the side talking with my brother when his wife walks up on us. “Your husband was just telling me how pretty he thinks you are,” I say. She doesn’t blink or take a breath or rehearse her response, it comes out immediately: “You guys are so full of shit.”
2. Keep a schedule, but not like your detailed, hourly pre-retirement calendar. No problem for me. I am obsessed with making to-do lists, to the point of self-parody. Creating schedules also, disturbingly, gives me pleasure. On the other hand, my attitude is casual: have a good agenda to keep myself on task, but to never stress if I fail to check off something on there.
3. Learn new things or pursue passions. Eh, maybe, but I have no long-deferred plans to pick up Spanish or fly-tying. And “passions” – you’re kidding, right, Forbes? Get with it: passions are 20th Century; nowadays things spark joy.
4. Get a part-time job. “Welcome to Walmart”? Ain’t gonna happen. I enjoy being active and productive but I did not retire in order to work more.
5. Stay engaged in some kind of meaningful activity, and stay healthy. Absolutely! I’m already committed to a healthier lifestyle than I was able to maintain when I was working. I used to sit on my ass hunched in front of a computer all day long. Now I’m walking every day, continuing to eat right and always on the watch for incremental positive adjustments.
6. Choose when to retire, and then follow through. I accomplished this. I walked away on my terms, feeling righteous about the way I did it.
7. Have a retirement income plan. Yes, obviously this is essential. You don’t have to be super-rich but you don’t want to be worrying about how you are going to finance your retirement and whether your nest egg can cover your household budget. And don’t lose sight that there are other, non-financial, currencies that can add value to a positive retirement. Plus, also, remember that it’s only a plan; things may change once you are actually living in retirement. So stay flexible.
8. If you have a partner, talk about your plans together. Right. You’re in it together.
9. Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. Of course it’s good to know if you want to spend the rest of your life on cruise ships versus sitting on the couch reading a book. But, just as in pre-retirement, your priorities may change as you live with it awhile. After all, you’ve never been retired before so how can you know for sure what you want until you’re in the middle of it. You’ve already embraced the biggest change: you’re retired. So tacking this way and that shouldn’t be any problem.
Day 9, Thu July 9: Mouse in the house! You don’t have to be retired to have domestic rodentia, but this is my reality. A couple of nights ago Nadia chased, played with, and tormented a little mouse that got into the basement hallway. Elena freaked out and I wasn’t too happy with the development myself. I’m the kind of person who will trap spiders and set them loose outside but this situation calls for a less kind-and-gentle remedy.
I set a trap outside along the foundation where a couple of years ago we thought mice were sneaking in. I’m a genius and we caught one the first night. Then last night Enid said she awoke at 4am to more indoor cat and mouse sounds. I checked the outside trap and we had provided a critter with a tasty peanut butter snack, but there was no dead mouse, just an empty snapped trap. As the world turns over the next few days, I will catch several little mice plus a thing that looks like a two-inch-long mole (a vole, possibly?). So I’m doing my part to make mice an endangered species, but a week from now we will still be dealing with this issue. Enid thought the original mouse maybe had squeezed under the basement closet door where we have the furnace. So I put a trap in there, but get no results.
In a few weeks, though, success! We won’t be seeing any more mouse evidence. That hiatus will last for almost a year, until next June, when we will again hear scrabbling in the air ducts and Nadia starts going crazy. I am able to lift out a living-room floor vent cover and set a mousetrap in there. It’s busy at first and I trap three of the intruders in two days. Then a lapse of a week with no action, then another mouse. And that seems to do it for that episode.
When we first moved here eight years ago we had a crazy mouse problem – there had been bird feeders about 10 feet from the house in the back yard. I imagine that they provided fabulous bird-watching, but they were also basically rodent smorgasbords with a big blinking neon arrow pointing at our house. Valet parking for all I know. We renovated the basement when we moved in then and that disruption, plus a real protracted mouse war on my part, eradicated the problem. (The other main creepy critter that sometimes invades the house is ants — and by “invade,” I mean that if we see one ant inside, that is one ant too many. They should know their place and stay out of doors.)
Like everybody, over the past several years we’ve had a few times when we had to reset the mouse traps after we saw signs of pests. A few times, Nadia has trapped a little mouse on the stairs or in the downstairs hallway, cowering under the lip of the bookshelves. Then I get a washcloth or a plastic bag and hand-trap the rodent, take it outside and fling it into the far bushes. They are tiny, so not intimidating. Except that if you strap me to a lie detector I will have to confess that they are totally intimidating.
Now, trying to think like a mouse, I can understand why they would come into a warm building during the winter, but I’m baffled why they would enter a cat-occupied house during the summer. We’ll see how this latest plot arc plays out, but I already know the denouement: I am mightier than any mouse.
For dinner: salmon burgers, and a big green salad from the garden.
Day 10, Fri July 10: One thing that is emphasized in all the books and blogs and advice about retirement – after the admonition to have your money lined up — is that creating a social network is important. Don’t forget to do things, they say. Preferably in groups. Personally I can’t think of anything more hideous than doing things in groups. But even I get the bigger message about not becoming isolated. That can’t be healthy, even for happy well-adjusted loners. Once that daily interaction with your work-family is gone it’s too easy to just stay in the house, pull the shades, and ignore that ringing phone. It can’t end well.
I wouldn’t self-identify as anti-social or an introvert or a misanthrope (true, there are people I don’t want to be around but that’s for the factual reason that they are assholes) and I like to have fun. But, my family will readily tell you, I am also happy to skip a party, a reception, a gathering. Like anybody, I’m anxious that I not reveal my hidden motivations for this. Especially since they are also hidden from me. And, still, as Fay Wolf writes, countering my instincts, “You know who’re cool and great? Other human beings.”
So, anyway, tonight we are walking up to the neighborhood Friday Night Potluck at the playfield just a few blocks from our house. These events happen every Friday all summer long but I opt out of the weekly commitment – even if we are home — especially when it sometimes starts to feel like an obligation or something. I’m not the only one. Attendance at the Friday Potlucks is hit-and-miss. To contemporary residents it is a wonderful tradition, but not an essential one in their busy lives. A generation ago it was a weekly appointment activity and neighborhood traditionalists bemoan the change as evidence that the local social weave is unravelling. I don’t see it that way; to me the variable attendance is just an indicator that things change. For myself, I like the people in the neighborhood just fine; it has nothing to do with that. The neighborliness, the conversation, the conviviality and, importantly, the food will be great.
This community is pretty special and almost unique in contemporary living. It’s not just a neighborhood where people live; it was founded as an intentional community and people who live here now still try to maintain the objectives of the founding group. We have lots of community activities and I actually like to participate in most of them: community lands work party, swimming pool clean-up, Salmon Bake at Labor Day.
And while this is not a retirement community, there are lots of older – mostly active — people living here. My peeps. For one thing, to afford a house here – I’m talking about the Seattle area, where housing prices and the cost of living have burst through the top of the thermometer — you need to have some cash in your account. So that skews it to, at least, successful mid-career folks. And then, beyond the housing prices, it takes a certain person to “get” our community-involvement ethos. You’re expected to care about the community and get involved. There’s an implied civic contract. So once people buy in – both real-estate wise and philosophically — they don’t readily leave. A lot of us stay in place. My neighbors include a retired planning official, retired lawyer, retired developer, retired doctor – you get the picture. A nice ancillary benefit of this – or possibly a minor pain in the ass, depending on how you look at it – is that most of them have been offering me unsolicited advice about how to be the new me and what to do in retirement.
Fortunately, things have also been changing a bit to make our neighborhood more age diverse. In the last few years a few more families with kids have moved in, including just in the past month or so three families with little kids. So that is good. It’s fun to have them running around. To hear their voices chirping at the playground as they try to figure out more dangerous ways to go down the slide. To have them doing their crazy antics at the pool. A multigenerational community is a good community.
My point is that some of our community potlucks, like the first one kicking off the summer or the season-ending Salmon Bake, are big entire-neighborhood affairs. But the routine weekly Friday evening occasions are just for whoever shows up that week.
Tonight’s event turns out to be a nice, very small affair with about 10 neighbors. The dishes are pretty much in two categories—pastas and desserts. Neither of which is in my personal food pyramid since I’ve concluded that my older metabolism should probably cool it a bit on those two areas. Not wishing to be a spoilsport, though, I go ahead and eat some of everything and have a good time chatting. Then I go back for seconds.
Day 11, Sat July 11. Plum juice! I know, not as exciting as Mouse In The House! from a few days ago but it is today’s project.
We have a backyard plum tree that every year looks pretty from the kitchen window when it is in blossom and produces a huge crop of purple plums that mostly go unused. When they are ripe we pick a few and eat them, but they are almost too juicy to be pleasant. Most of them fall to the ground and the deer wander into the yard for their own Plumfest.
We also have a couple of fruit-bearing apple trees farther down the yard near the garden. Some of the apples taste OK but they can be kind of tart and most years they are kind of pithy. Maybe they don’t get enough water down there; it’s true that we count on them to be kind of self-sufficient which is probably not the perfect fruit-orchard policy. This year, though, we’ve got a Strategic Plum Plan. We will harvest them and make juice.
A lot of philosophies that I believe in and try to practice roll into this: live lightly; refuse, reuse, recycle; go off the grid; self-sufficiency; eat healthy. For decades I have enjoyed gardening (though Enid is the main gardener around here now) and eating what I grow, but another one of my philosophies is to not labor too hard at it – I want the plants to do most of the work with just a little assist from me.
So while I am definitely in the Urban Gardener tribe, they lose me as soon as they start talking about testing your soil to know whether it’s acid or alkaline. And, while I’m on the subject, forget keeping goats. I’m not milking a goat. That’s pretty benign, but I’m out. I hang around the fringes of the “Mother Earth News” clan, too. I check out that magazine from the library to pick up tips. It doesn’t take too long before the articles expose my true colors. When they tip over into advocating for homesteading in a mud yurt or making your own gasoline, that’s when I step outside for a breath of air.
I learn a lot that I can put into practice and other stuff that I find, uh, interesting. It is not always clear where the self-sufficiency ends and the bat-shit crazy begins. But there is definitely a dividing line between me and the hardcore, even if it is often a wide and sometimes fuzzy demarcation. One place that line is sharply drawn was this: in two separate articles in two separate back issues of “Mother Earth News,” people were promoting the use of cloth rags instead of toilet paper for wiping your butt, then washing them and reusing. There was a pretty long list of reasons for doing that. I could think of one pretty convincing reason not to do that, so I know which side I am on. I’m a Cottonelle man.
As for plum juice, I am not fully committed but I am willing to try things. Today I picked plums, pitted them and ran them through my solid old juicer. I’ve had this venerable campaigner for at least 30 years, since my first time around making carrot juice back in the day. The thing is a heavy, old-school countertop appliance. Feeding the fruit into its maw, I miscalculated a bit with my technique and it spit out a spatter of plum goop from the top. Nothing catastrophic but enough to put four or five purple spots on my shirt and a sprinkling on the cupboard front. Overall, though, the process of sending them through the juicer was pretty easy.
Now let’s sample our product. Yeeow! That was unexpected. The juice was puckeringly tart! Definitely does not resemble any commercial beverage, so if I was going for an indie juice, I achieved it. I tried a few experiments to make it more drinkable. I cut it with some watermelon and cantaloupe juice which helped a little, but not a lot. I offered some to Enid just in case my taste buds weren’t sophisticated enough. We sipped some samples, but it was just way too tangy to tolerate. To give myself time to think, I filled two empty kombucha bottles with the rest of the juice and stuck them in the fridge (and there are still enough plums on the tree for at least 10 times that much, if I decide to go there). For now, it seems like this plum juice is not going to be stand-alone, it will have to be dumped into a smoothie or possibly mixed with the apples when they are ready. So, as a tasty, refreshing drink: failure. As an experiment: mixed results. To be continued.
Day 12, Sun July 12: So you can understand where I’m coming from, I should be right upfront about one thing I do: I make lists. To-do lists are the foundation of productivity. And, the way I do it, to-do lists are also an entry in the Big Book of Psychiatric Symptomatology. Life gets simpler when you are no longer a working stiff, but you still have so much to remember – both things you want to recall and things you’d rather forget but can’t afford to let slip away.
Some people expand their lists beyond the mundane tasks. They make a litany of what they’re thankful for, an anthology of birdsongs they’ve heard, a compendium of favorite places to shuffle their bare feet. Some people keep a gratitude journal. Those are all fine ideas and practices, but I don’t do any of that.
Pretty much every day of my working life I would make a new list on a yellow legal pad, to the point that colleagues would gently tease me about it, getting laughs at my expense with the joke that today’s list is always just yesterday’s, written on a fresh page of the tablet. Which is mostly true, but what’s so funny? It worked for me for forever. Why stop now?
Then, for the past year or more – once I could see which way the wind was blowing — I’ve also been making retirement-theme to-do schedules with items large and small and basically shoving them into folders on a cubby shelf. I try to check some of them off the list from time to time. I am operating on the theory that even a few minutes of chipping away at these little tasks makes a difference somewhere down the line. Rome, the Pyramids, an organized Junk Drawer, these things take a while. First, though, I want to make progress on consolidating and organizing the lists themselves. I will probably make a list about that. We’ll see.
Judge me if you want to, but I would be helpless without my lists. I would have to remember things. And I’m way too lazy for that.
Dinner: tuna salad on top of a garden salad of lettuce, diced kohlrabi and shredded carrots with some fresh basil and rosemary from the flowerpots on the front deck. For dessert, a handful of fresh, little “wild” strawberries that we have planted in a flower-box on the back deck off the living room and they are producing like crazy.
Day 13, Mon July 13: Talking about money – like sex, religion or politics – is vulgar and private. I’ll get around to sex, religion and politics in a while.
An important retirement check-mark (though not the only one, by any means) is having your finances squared away – at least to the point that short-money isn’t a constant worry in your life. You’ve got to talk about it, at least with yourself, with your partner if you’ve got one, and with anybody else who is in the game with you on your team. The whole notion of retirement finances is a stressor, right? Eek, to put it mildly. But if you don’t deal with it going in, it will be a relentless affliction. Everybody’s situation is unique, so each person has to do their own version of what I did.
So let me just say this: as usual, since this is Monday, I’m paying bills and planning to run errands. In with the bills is an envelope with my last paycheck from Bellevue College, mailed to me instead of automatic deposited, for some reason. So here it is, I will not see another paycheck.
I know that much of what I’ve been writing about so far in this journal – lawn-mowing and drawer-organizing and walk-taking — is in one way kind of superficial and trivial, yet in another way very important to convey the downshifting that takes place when you bow out. These are the small things that will actually take up a lot of your time. Of course, whether I organize a drawer or not has very little bearing on whether I will have a happy 30 years of retirement. Being not-broke will.
That’s why it’s important to deal with the more serious category when you separate from your job: the financial plan and medical coverage, and the incomprehensible stress-making nightmare that is Social Security. You’ve got to tie your shoes a little tighter and face it. The whole mess involves a lot of bureaucracy and forms. It gets convoluted. I will do my best to communicate what I understand about it but I lack full confidence that I am able.
So, anyway, my final check arrives in the mail. Why they would not direct deposit it like every other paycheck is a bureaucratic mystery that I will just have to accommodate. As with many things that happen in these first months since I furloughed out, it’s better – or easier, at least — to just go with the flow unless the flow seems to be going in a totally wrong direction. In addition to my pay, this final check included a couple of small cash-outs: my unused vacation payoff of $7,925.14 and my sick-leave amount of $2944.02. That latter sum is equivalent to one-fourth of the sick-leave value that I had sitting in there. I know, I know, I should have been sick a lot more these final couple of years instead of basically leaving nine grand on the table. I tried. I did. To force myself to take off more days, at one point I even made a little calendar schedule of days when I would call in sick. I tried to be strategic about using up more sick leave while still creating a seemingly-random pattern and not drawing attention to myself. That was dumb on lots of fronts. First, I was too dedicated and never took very many sick days anyway. And, second, I don’t think anybody was paying any attention in any case. I should have just called in sick every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for weeks on end. If somebody finally noticed and asked what I was trying to prove and could I explain the reason for my absences, I could have said, “Flu-like symptoms. Also, I quit.”
Rather than being a straight cash-out, that sick-leave amount is put into something called a VEBA investment account and, going forward, I can use it to get reimbursed for medical expenses until it runs out. It lasts for about two-and-a-half years, reimbursing for out-of-pocket medical costs. Anticipating my retirement when I will no longer have health coverage, we already changed things so that Elena and I are now covered on Enid’s Group Health plan. Then in November when I turn 65 I will switch over to a combination of Medicare and Enid’s plan. It’s a lot of paperwork and adjustment now, but after that we will be set for a while, knock on wood.
To help accomplish this, today I send a form to the Washington State Healthcare Authority continuing my enrollment in the health plan I’ve had from work, but “deferring” it – so that it hibernates until if/when I ever need it again. This little gambit is thanks to a tip from Karsten, a super-helpful benefits guy in the Bellevue College Human Resources office who held my hand through the separation process. (Karsten is in stark contrast to Enid’s benefits person at Bellevue Schools, who was the opposite of super-helpful. Whatever that word might be. Fuckwad, I’m thinking.)
I’m making a lot of decisions and filling out a lot of paperwork in these current months, but the whole process of taking a sharper view of all things retirement actually started for me a couple of years ago. Once we had Elena’s college costs covered (and higher-ed tuition is an expensive investment, but well worth it in our family’s value system) I started thinking about stepping down. I’ve been working since I was a kid and, while I didn’t hate my job or anything, I definitely was not feeling fulfilled. I had low-level discontent and I could have kept going without any big spiritual trauma but I figured this was not going to start drifting in the direction of getting better. The other trend I was pretty sure would continue is that I would keep getting older. As is true for everyone, the #1 thing to figure out was the money.
I knew our net worth from the reports we get from out financial advisor. We’re not rich but we are savers not spenders, and we figured out some practices that help working people accumulate wealth over a lifetime. In the time we’ve been together Enid and I always had many comingled assets – like our house (in fact, we bought a house together about a year after we hooked up, before we were even married) – but we also each kept our separate investment portfolios and bank accounts. We just worked out acceptable processes over the years; for example, I always covered the mortgage and utility bills and she always paid for the groceries. As we move into this new phase of life it looks like it will make more sense to make all of our accounts joint ones. We’ll see. Anyway, I knew how much money we had but I did not know how to do the arithmetic to project it out into the future. So I met with my long-time trusted investment advisor, Kathleen, at her Pioneer Square office and asked her what the deal was. When can I retire? She crunched the numbers, ran out a scenario that had both Enid and me maintaining our standard of living well into our golden years, and told me, “Right now, if you want to. As long as you don’t live past 100.”
This cheerful calculation required that we keep our household expenses where they are (in our case, at about $5000 a month, including everything from mortgage payment to groceries to incidentals to pizza deliveries to property tax to car insurance to hair cuts – everything). If anything, our expenses will go slightly down here, at least in the short run; I have paid off the car note for the Honda Fit (which I will eventually give to my daughter and I will go carless) and smaller work-related regular expenses like dry cleaning will drop off the budget.
With all of this financial arithmetic happening behind the curtain, about six months ago I picked July 1 as my Big Date. This was just a drop-dead date (or maybe more accurately a rebirth date) in my own head and for my own planning purposes. I didn’t announce this at work until I gave the standard two-weeks’ notice a month ago in mid-June. And it started to get real.
So now, since paychecks are a fading memory for me, things change. For the upcoming few months – or several months, however long we can do it — we will live on Enid’s paycheck plus our cash-on-hand or rainy-day-fund or “other income” or whatever you want to call it (it’s the money that has accrued in our savings and checking accounts). We won’t even tap into any of our investments yet. It looks like we will be able to defer on taking my Social Security benefit until later. Our idea is to live like this for a while, then reassess where we are and figure out the next steps. That’s the plan, anyway.
For supper: stuffed peppers and home-made lavender ice cream for dessert.
Day 14, Tue July 14: Got up, puttered around. I think about getting my chainsaw serviced, buying a new wheelbarrow tire online and replacing the rubber treads on the stairs down from the workshop to the house. Instead of any of that, I spent a few hours decluttering my computer files: moving docs from place to place, deleting copies of jpgs. I started to try to figure out how to get some music from cassette tapes to digital format; I’ve got some tapes of bands I played in 35 years ago. (It will take multiple failed efforts and a couple of years, but I will eventually get this stuff successfully transferred. I buy a cheaply-made little gizmo online called an Ezcap that is the size of an old-fashioned Walkman; it lets you load a tape and a thumb drive and make the tape into digital. It seems like such a crummy piece of equipment that it can’t possibly work. But it does. Then I videos using Windows Movie Maker, using the audio and a bunch of still pictures of the bands and posters and so forth. Then I post the videos to You Tube. You can go on You Tube and search “Bart Becker” or “Pinky Black & the Excessives” or “South Street Shakers” and get a peep at what I was up to when I was around 30 years old.)
There is nothing like a productive morning when the 10am sunlight is filtering through the trees and all of the doors are thrown open to make you feel like life’s worth living. Around ten o’clock we ate fruit salad, orange juice and coffee out on the back deck, and then did some paperwork out there until the sun cleared the roofline and started broiling us.
Enid drove Elena 20 minutes across the bridge into Seattle so she could catch a train to Portland and meet up with friends. Then we journeyed a half-hour north to 60 Acres Park, a massive soccer complex in Woodinville (or Redmond or Kirkland, it’s not totally clear to me where we are). It’s where now-famous players like Deandre Yedlin once got their early acclaim as youth stars for famous local elite teams like CrossFire and Emerald City.
We’re not going there to play soccer. For us, it provides a parking lot, bathrooms and walk-on access to the Sammamish River Trail, a beautiful five-mile walk along a slow-moving wide stream populated with ducks, geese, dragonflies and kayakers. The trail, in total, runs 11 miles from Bothell to Marymoor Park in Redmond. I’ve never walked the whole distance; I could do the 11 miles but not 22, so how would I get back to my car? The Sammamish River Trail connects to a half-dozen other major trails and you can access even more foot paths with a little urban bushwhacking. On the trail with us today are lots of bicyclists, runners, even a couple of in-line skaters (who knew those things were still a thing?) and one very cool ride: a bike but instead of pedals it was an elliptical.
I’m wearing an old threadbare green Sonics T-shirt that gets one solidarity comment from a fellow fan. The team is long gone but the shirt is still here and just reaching the comfortably frayed state that I like best. The weather has been off-and-on lately, a mix of cloudy with sun breaks and heavy mist. Today the blanket of overcast peeled off by 9:30 and it’s hot and sunny.
We like to muse about where we will eventually live one day (the Ozarks? Michigan? Bothell?). Enid has this fantasy that it will be a place where she can ride her bike from our retirement condo along a flat path to the grocery store and back, carrying an old person’s shopping load: two bananas, on-sale chicken breasts, small milk. This flat bikeway would be like where we are walking now along the Sammamish. I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to riding a bike in my antique state because, while I’m all for the exercise, I don’t want to fall down and hurt myself. Not into that. The same reason – though at the milder end of the spectrum – why I’m not gonna be doing any spelunking, bungee jumping, or mixed martial arts fighting. If we ever do move to a bike-friendly place, maybe I’ll buy an adult three-wheeler trike. That’ll work for me and I can pick up extra revenue giving jitney rides to other old people.
Where we actually live is in South Bellevue on top of a high hill, and that does not make riding a bike to the store a good option. Or more accurately, riding down to the store would be cake but the uphill return trip would end in my funeral. I do sometimes see really fit bikers coming up our road, but they are the kind of bikers who see it as a challenge, not a death sentence. Also, Enid likes to tease me about how I can lead the Active Senior Lifestyle now that I’m retired and today’s walk gives her a little more insight into it. So the hike has multiple benefits.
When we’re done walking the Sammamish Trail we sit at a picnic table near the soccer fields to hydrate and eat a few handfuls of raisins and peanuts. Way across the fields are three guys flying remote-control airplanes – not drones, but the big old-fashioned kind. It seems like half the places I walk I see airplane dudes.
When we get back home we augment with a bowl of cantaloupe and blueberries. And then, keeping the Active Senior Lifestyle at the forefront, I lie down and take a nap. Later I weed-whack the overgrown studio patio and watch half of the All Star Game while Enid went out to dinner with a few pals to celebrate Bastille Day.
Day 15, Wed July 15: I am barely two weeks into retirement and today I have temporarily lost track of what day it is. So that’s a good sign. It is not hard to figure it out in about 10 seconds, of course, but I did not know.
Drink coffee. Read paper. Change out cat litter boxes. Pick up piles of brush around the yard and drag up to brush pile. Take photos of flowers in yard. Check Facebook (that’s what old people do, right?). Check the delivery status of a cluster-headache medication prescription I ordered (I’ve been having headache episodes since last Saturday). Delete a few emails. Eat leftover lasagna for lunch. Capture wounded mouse on the basement stairs, put in plastic bag and take up to garbage can. It’s sunny out and the orange berries on the mountain ash are popping, hanging in clumps like mini Chihuly chandeliers but with more artistic integrity. Chat with next-door neighbor Marilyn while standing in the driveway. Take shower. Fold laundry. Write a few notes in this journal. Download photos from camera to desktop. Clean up photo files in camera by deleting a bunch. I should buy some paint so I can spruce up the deck and railings at the cabin next time we’re out there.
Day 16, Thu July 16: After dinner we drive across the bridge to pick up Elena at King Street Station. She spent a couple of days in Portland with her friend, Meredith, staying in a tiny-house hotel and seeing the sights. When we checked online the train was running 20 minutes ahead of schedule, so we showed up then, only to find that it was now 10 minutes behind schedule and will be in about 8:15.
We walked around Pioneer Square, which we rarely get to these days. Our impression is that it can get pretty skeevy, especially after dark. Ground Zero for non-middle-class street behavior, at least in my ill-informed view, is Occidental Park. All those homeless guys are probably harmless, but kind of intimidating nevertheless. Tonight, though, instead of dispossessed folks, we come across about 60 people who have a dance floor laid out and a stage set up over the cobblestones, Lots of them are dressed up – a lot of black and white and red — and they are tango-dancing. Not only that, they are inviting people from the audience to come up and give it a whirl, which is nearly as daunting to me as the idea of running into thugs after dark. As long as we just observe and don’t participate, it’s fun and unexpected, though, so we watch for 10 minutes until we have to hustle back to the train station.
Day 17, Fri July 17: How To Read This Book. Everybody will have their own reasons for reading a book like this and their expectations and goals for what they get out of it. Some will simply be looking for light entertainment, or possibly great literature. Some are just in it for the sex. Others, I imagine, will hope for a How-To blueprint for retirement.
Working gives a lot to your life. When you deactivate, you have to figure out ways to replace the parts of it that matter to you: paycheck, work-family relationships, and a regular routine that organizes your life. My own aim for retirement is to be healthy (very), wealthy (relatively) and happy (at all times, in all ways).
If I were to give a few dicta (for retirement, but also for life in general) they would include:
1) Don’t Follow Leaders (except for me, of course).
2) Be Yourself (unless you are a real asshole).
Be real. In retirement you no longer have to wear that mask and costume you wore for work all those years. (If that docile middle-of-the-roader was the real you all that time, then that would be super-weird but I have to also commend you, let’s hear it for transparency and continuity.)
So, while I’m recounting the things that come up in my first year off the clock – one guy’s walk through a universal experience; it’s about me! — I know that it’s possible, or even likely, for folks, with the right viewpoint, to read it as a guide. I can see how a reader – whether that person is a lot like me or very different – can take my specific experiences and, first, generalize them, and then retranslate them back one more time to fit their own particular circumstances. Like translating from English to French and back (and we all know how that goes). Mainly I am only telling what happens to me and only intending to give advice as a collateral product. I know, very un-Facebook like.
Still, for all my qualifying language here, I would not be honest if I did not acknowledge the “how-to” or “advice” aspects of a journal like this. It’s hardly like I am your only source of expertise here. There are tons of books and websites and blogs on the various aspects of retirement and some of them are very good and helpful. You could read all of them. Another retirement strategy would be to just waste all of your time on Facebook, getting tips and inspiration from memes and shares. All I can come up with for this book, in terms of any practical applications, is that it’s similar to the way that I might read a cookbook and snare a couple of specific tips and a handful of more general ones.
So, who knows, maybe you are exactly like me and can take all of my experiences and apply them wholesale to your own life. But that would be super peculiar. More likely you can take a few tips from this book that you adapt to your own retirement. Stranger things have happened. Maybe my comments about long walks and green-smoothie cleanses will encourage you to get off your ass and take your own long walks and green-smoothie cleanses. Or perhaps your thing is playing golf and brewing beer and you can make the connection to how my walk and smoothie equals your golf and brewski. Maybe I mention my cat, Nadia, and you think “damn, I’ve always wanted a pet and now I’m getting one.” Perhaps you can draw a parallel between my financial situation and yours. Possibly my windmill-tilting at the government programs clicks a lightbulb for you: “Medicare! Right! I knew there was something I was supposed to sign up for.”
Also, you have to eat, even though you’re retired. Here and there I’ve jotted down what I made for dinner some nights. Maybe that will give you some menu ideas. If I can make it, you can make it.
Day 18, Sat July 18: After my last day at work 19 days ago they routinely deactivated my email account (along with all kinds of other access on a long checklist) and just left an out-of-office message for people trying to reach me. Then today, a couple of weeks into retirement, it finally occurred to me to delete my dead work email account from my phone.
This could possibly have been a significant symbolic milestone of separation. In theory, it would not be unlikely that I could have an emotional reaction, both from throwing off the chains of the 24-7 work email and, on the other side of the equation, from cutting the cord to that remaining lifeline of communication with my former identity. It’s natural that a big change like retirement would have a person thinking more deeply about every aspect of life and searching for meaning in the inconsequential. For me, though, that requires a little more introspection than I need to survive on. It’s one thing to lead the examined life, and another to be self-absorbed. The latter is a slippery slope with some dangerous tiger pits: narcissism and martyr complexes, to name two. (No charge for the psychological counseling. You’re welcome.)
But the truth is that when I hit delete to jettison my work email off of my phone, no real sentimental feelings surface. It’s just another thing that happens, one of many. These little reminders that I’m now a free person pop up from time to time as I sweep up the detritus of my last job. On another day a few weeks from now, for example, I will be foraging for something in my wallet and realize I have a stash of 10 business cards in there available to hand out. Instead, they get handed out into the nearest recycling bin. In the early days of retirement, these are the things you deal with as you pack up from your former life bit-by-bit and get set for your new reality.
Day 19, Sun July 19: Enid has bought a Presto Dehydro dehydrator. Today she makes plum fruit leather in an attempt to get something edible out of the plum juice (in fairness to the plums, Elena is drinking the juice like it’s no big deal). Plum leather from this first tree turns out convincingly fruit-leathery in texture, but still too tart to eat. She also dries bananas into a sort of soft, chewy banana “chip.” She dries some cherries into a sort of soft, chewy dried cherry – and these are pretty good.
Fruit leather may be a metaphor for a bigger lifestyle attitude. Maybe this inclination to a certain amount of self-sufficiency is the entire reason why we are set enough financially that I can decamp. Financial security seems to be the most anxiety-inducing aspect for people thinking about dropping out of the race. Normal concern is exacerbated by the lingering lack of confidence created by the Bush Depression, although the Obama Years have been pretty good, even for the Middle Class, if there is such a thing anymore. People worry (and they should): will they have enough money to maintain their lifestyle? Or at least “a” lifestyle. The next big concern seems to be whether they’ll find anything to do with their time or whether Retirement Life will have meaning.
I’m here to tell you that you can still be productive: I haven’t even been retired for three weeks yet and I’ve already straightened up the junk drawer. I find a startling number of different bottles and pens of Wite Out and Liquid Paper in there (I know how Wite Out works, but I cannot remember using it – at work or at home – since the Pleistocene Era), not to mention Chinook Book coupons that expired two years ago.
For me, though – and this is where the fruit leather reference checks in — my lifestyle has always been pretty low to the ground. I read about people my age who seem really stressed because the money doesn’t pencil out for them. I’d never say it to their face, but I wonder to myself, what have they been doing with their past 40 years of paychecks? I made middle-class money, nothing One Percenter about it, but I managed to save a little. I know that saving is a quaint and antiquated notion, but I did it. I wasn’t a top-end consumer.
But for now I will scratch any acquisitive itch by watering the tomatoes and delaying gratification until they’re ripe.
Day 20, Mon July 20: Guy Clark sings: “Only two things that money can’t buy / And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” We are enjoying a bountiful harvest. I can’t deny that I get overly emotionally involved with the tomato patch. We will eat tomatoes straight off the vine in all their forms, and when we max out I will make batches of tomato juice and tomato sauce that will go into the freezer. We will still be harvesting a few leftover tomatoes in mid-October before we tear out the garden.
We also harvest garlic today. We pull them up, clean off the dirt and hang them with clothespins on clothesline in the studio. There are a couple-dozen garlic plants and they will last us into next summer. They make good gifts, too: sometimes when we have people over for dinner we send them home with a head of garlic as a lagniappe; we get fresh-out-of-the-hen eggs from a woman in our neighborhood and once in a while we give her garlic as a friendly gesture. And Enid cut flowers for two bouquets: one comprised beautiful, wispier red, yellow and purple blooms, what she called “un bouquet champêtre” (“a field bouquet”) and set on the dining table; and another of huge yellow and red zinnias that she put in a yellow pitcher on the kitchen counter. While we were at it, I picked up random sticks from around the yard and toted them to our big brush pile.
In the studio we have a boom box that plays CDs and cassettes. While I’m working on hanging the garlic I go for some music. After a false start with a Doc Watson CD from the shelves that won’t play, I put on a compilation CD: Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Ann Peebles – and winds up with the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy v the Red Baron.” And then a cassette tape of Texas blues, including the Juke Jumpers’ version of “Chicken necks and chicken feet, that’s the only kind of chicken I like to eat.”
Dinner was improvised and good. We sat on the back deck and had cheese on the rice crackers Enid likes for an appetizer and then for the main course, fruit salad I made.
Day 21, Tue July 21: We spent three days at our Hood Canal getaway cabin, swimming, tanning, grilling. It’s Paradise Found and we are on Island Time (though not on an actual island).
If you think retired life at home is leisurely, you ain’t seen nothing. It is real easy out there to spend three hours at the beach just listening to the waves lap in. Not even bothering to read your Elmore Leonard or Walter Mosely novel. Today it is scorching. Bikini weather. The water, of course, is way too cold to swim for me but not for the little kids from other vacationing families. They are in there turning flattering shades of blue. And not for Enid and Elena who’ve been in and out, swimming or snorkeling or reclining on the red and blue floats with just their feet dangling in. The neighbors – guys my age — were windsurfing. And even for me it is not too cold for kayaking, so go out paddling for an hour or so.
One of the days was super windy which made it a real effort paddling into the wind and also created waves a foot or so high which doesn’t sound like much until you are out there in a recreational-class kayak. The waves, in turn, created a lot of spray which, in turn, created a lot of fun.
Mid-summer is a also good time to make notes on any repairs or renovations we need to do out there at the cabin, without actually getting fired up enough to do anything about it yet.
Coming home last night we stopped off in Tacoma to watch a Triple-A baseball game at Cheney Stadium. I become an immediately Rainiers fan when they give me the dollar-off Senior Discount. I don’t even have to show an ID, the woman just looks at me and rings it up. The Rainiers’ shortstop is a dynamic baby-faced kid named Ketel Marte and we immediately adopt him as a family favorite. We don’t know it now but next summer he will be starting for the Mariners and in another season he will be traded along to some other team and in a few years we will read that he signed a $25 million contract. We knew him when. Like every other minor league game since the beginning of time, this one is perfect: 3,000 in attendance; the game starts at sunset; the home team’s third baseman loses a high pop-up in the dusk sky and it falls harmlessly to the infield two feet from him; security has to hustle out to the leftfield Coors Light Landing to eject a rambunctious fan; the mascot, Rhubarb the Reindeer, strips nekkid and streaks the field in the fifth inning; Elena has her picture taken with Sonics Man, a guy with a huge afro who shows up everywhere advocating quixotically for bringing back an NBA team to Seattle; we eat delicious hot dogs from the Red Hot stand; the Rainiers lose to the Salt Lake City Bees 8-2. Blissful. (After Elena graduates from college in a few years she will get her first job in Walla Walla, which has many positive aspects but a main one is that their ball team is even a step or two more in the direction of wonderfulness: it’s college guys playing for the summer in beautiful little Borleske Park, and it’s called the Walla Walla Sweets.)
Day 22, Wed July 22: I’m taking a Rest Day or two from walking. The ball of my left foot all of a sudden got tender – like I had stepped on a pebble or something, but I don’t remember stepping on any pebble or something. It’s a little bit touchy for walking, especially barefoot. It’s nothing terrible, with a sock and shoe on it’s OK, but for a few blocks not a few miles. These kinds of injuries and ailments are all part of the mystery of aging. They just happen. The weird thing is, I seemed fine yesterday whether barefoot or wearing my decades-old Tevas that I still prefer to any other sandals. Then around five o’clock all of a sudden, ouch.
These hot July days are great opportunities to put your retirement skills to the test. Enid made Dutch Babies for breakfast. In the morning is the chance to throw open all the doors while it’s still cool and feel like the house is a screen-porch with the sun dappling down. Mess around inside. Maybe walk down to our four-tree orchard and check the status of the crop. By afternoon it starts to get hot inside (no air conditioning) and outside. Maybe a fan helps, maybe not. Perhaps a fine time to work or play outside, and sweat it out. Swimming pool always the lazy person’s productive choice.
Sit at the deck table while dusk turns to the fall of evening, drinking wine and talking. Maybe playing Made for Trade (it’s a pioneer-era version of Monopoly for little kids, and is just as interminable) until it gets so dark that even the candles can’t make the board readable. And then walk up and sit on the studio patio in the darkness, looking out at the lights of Mercer Island five miles away, Seattle 10 miles away and on to the silhouetted paper-tear of the Olympics to the west. Eating ice cream bars.
Supper outside: turkey burgers and grilled corn.
Day 23, Thu July 23: Elena is off to Tacoma for a couple of weeks of visiting friends, couch-surfing, I think she’s doing some work to finish up her paper on her summer research grant, and to get back into the conditioning room lifting and working out with the Loggers’ great conditioning coach, Josh Gray. Elena really loves this coach. She says that when the lacrosse team gets there for their 7am conditioning and he lists out the work for the session, and they say, “Aaagh, those are my most-hated workouts,” Josh simply says, “My bad. Let’s go.”
One good thing, the weather has calmed down to 75-80 in the days. It even sprinkled a little rain yesterday. A few apples are ripening prettily and I’m thinking about doing a mini-harvest of a grocery bag or two to make some juice. It’s still beautiful and sunny in the afternoon and it is still comfortable with just a T-shirt after sundown and sleeping with just a sheet. It’s a little relief from those insanely great 95 degree days we were having for a while. Those temperatures were fabulous for sitting on the beach at Hood Canal, not so much for sitting on the couch at home and trying to figure out how to angle the fan for optimum cooling.
Day 24, Fri July 24: Enid and I bounce downtown to the Bellevue Arts Fair, a sprawling streets-parking-lots-and-alleys extravaganza of arts booths, crafts booths, food trucks. This is the opening morning of the event and it’s not yet packed shoulder-to-shoulder with 200,000 folks like it will be tomorrow on Saturday. It’s just pleasantly crowded with maybe 50,000 or so. The day is cloudy and cool. We’ve talked about attending the Arts Fair for several years but never got it together. Of course it’s a minor hassle to find a place to park and so on – we park in the lot at the Downtown Park near Old Bellevue and walk over. We have fun strolling around and window shopping the booths for a couple of hours, then come home in early afternoon. We should wash the car but instead we spend the rest of the day messing around the house.
Day 25, Sat July 25: Our next-door neighbors, Bo and Jan, are getting married at 4:30 this afternoon and we will walk over for that.
So of course it’s really raining hard this morning, pretty much for the first time all summer. While Enid is making cinnamon snails for breakfast, she starts singing Irma Thomas’s “It’s Raining” and we slow-dance in the kitchen like Roberto Benigni and the owner of that swamp café when the song comes on the jukebox towards the end of “Down By Law.”
Our neighbor Bo is a retired lawyer (uncertain about his age but in his 70s for sure), a friendly, helpful and good neighbor for the entire eight years we’ve lived here. One time we needed a hand pulling a heavy, unwieldy iron fireplace box out of the stone chimney separating our dining room and living room, so we could install a gas fireplace. We couldn’t quite do it ourselves, so Bo and a Mexican guy he had working for him responded without question to our call for help. Four of us muscled it out onto a four-wheel cart and got it out the door. Later I sold it on Craigslist to a buyer who said he was going to use it in a backyard pizza oven he was building. Eventually when the gas-fireplace guy came for the installation his first words were, “Oh. Wow!” Not exactly what you want to hear from your fireplace installer. Like all things, it worked out and now on dreary winter days we have a nice, charming, sparkling fire to keep things cozy.
Bo’s politics, I know, are super progressive (if nothing else, I’ve seen him wearing the classic Che Guevara T-shirt) so we’re simpatico in that way. But beyond that I don’t know too much about him. We say hi and chat when we meet on the street. When we first moved in he invited us for dinner. Until recently when he had his knees replaced he would take off once a year for bicycling vacations of a few weeks or a month or longer – across Spain or Bulgaria or someplace. I think he and Jan even did some of those bike vacations together. He would sometimes ask us and other neighbors to keep an eye on his place, and other times we would see his thirty-something, smart and funny daughter Brittany house-sitting. As best we can tell she’s really successful at something involving property development.
We know less about Jan, who has been on the scene with Bo for the past five years or so. She has a home in the islands and possibly a home or condo in downtown Seattle. I think she keeps a horse someplace that she rides. Presumably she shares Bo’s general outlook on life.
Enid and I have speculated about what era and style of music they will play for dancing at the reception. The Party Rentals truck was already parked at their driveway yesterday, presumably setting up the chairs and tents. And for the last couple of months, off-and-on there have been various work crews at their place, spiffing it up. About 1:30 today Bo drove over to ask if it was OK to park cars in the cul-de-sac, which would block off our garage. Our answer was yes, that would be outstanding. Bo reported that they had ordered an extra two tents just this morning. He said his foot was giving him problems so he couldn’t close up the dance floor, but he promises that he will be out there shaking his moneymaker for a few tunes.
When we get around to the actual event in the later afternoon, it turns out that daughter Brittany conducts the sweet, funny and heartfelt ceremony “by the powers invested in me by the Universal Life Church.” I’m sentimental so I shed a few happy tears.
When the bride and groom make their comments, Jan says she promises to love Bo no matter how many expensive golf gizmos he buys. These are adults, walking into marriage with their eyes open and their sense of humor intact.
Music wise, you know one of four things is almost certain to get played at a wedding – and maybe all of them — depending on the demographic makeup of the delegation and the time of night: “Brown Eyed Girl,” “The Electric Slide,” “Knee Deep” or “At Last.” The music for Bo and Jan’s reception is what you’d expect (minus any Beyonce or anything else more recent than the 1980s): “Mustang Sally,” “Wooly Bully,” “Electric Slide,” ABBA, lots of disco. I wonder if Van Morrison gets paid every time a wedding DJ plays “Brown Eyed Girl.” That’d be a nice revenue stream.
For all of you single-but-hopeful retirees reading this, keep the faith and let this wedding be an optimistic example that it could be in your future, too. Maybe buy a bike just to improve your odds. True love is a wonderful thing and it can happen any time.
Day 26, Sun July 26: I slept ‘til 10! It’s kinda cold; still shorts and T-shirt weather but I may have to pull on a long-sleeved, or maybe socks.
For breakfast I had eggs and potatoes, and coffee in a cup that has the word “Nebraska” spelled out in Chinese characters, and underneath that it says, phonetically, “nei bu la si jia”. I buy any brand of the strongest whole bean coffee, whatever is convenient or cheapest – Starbuck’s, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, Trader Joe’s; I am not a coffee snob – and then grind it and make my pot of coffee. I used to have the Mr. Coffee set up the night before with a timer, so that it would be brewing when I got up in the morning but I have stopped doing that. I drink a couple of cups and then sometimes have the rest of the pot tomorrow, re-heated cup-by-cup in the microwave. Did I mention that I’m not a coffee snob?
Yesterday I was listening to a bunch of Miley Cyrus music on You Tube while I was straightening up, and it had me thinking about Iris Dement. I can’t explain any connection, but that happened. So this morning I dug around for an Iris Dement mix-tape CD that Enid’s friend Lyn gave us, and I’ve got that going as I work.
I’m running a second load of good-shirt laundry; these are the dozen shirts I will iron and hang in the closet; the other half of the business shirts that I had in my closet have been downsized and are headed for the garage sale or Goodwill. (I don’t know it yet, but it will turn out that I will barely wear a button-up collared shirt at all during this next year; maybe 10 times total, probably fewer. Next April I will do another culling of my closet and even more of these shirts will be history.) Enid’s got yoga and then plans for running errands. I move the laundry to the dryer.
Check various email and Facebook accounts. I look at the outside mousetrap and re-bait it with peanut butter. Take a shower. Pack and label a trash bag with garage sale clothes of mine and Elena’s. Empty the dishwasher and load dirty dishes from kitchen counter. Have Enid take pictures of me to include in letters that will be sent to Elena while she’s in Madagascar this fall.
Picked some apples because a few are already falling on the ground. Made about half of a Simply Apple container of apple juice which tastes extremely good – very pronounced apple flavor and it has a beautiful transparent-amber liqueur color. I still have to figure out how to do a better job separating the “foam” from the clear juice during the processing since it makes it slightly gritty. For now, I let it settle out and then pour very carefully. Anyway, it’s a big success because, unlike the plum juice, the apple is delicious and drinkable. A nice color and enjoyably tart. I clean up the considerable mess from the juicing process and take the produce bag full of apple mash up to the green bin.
I drive over to the library before it closes at 5 to return an armload of books and pick up a Leon Bridges CD I had on hold, plus a bunch of magazines. Lie down on the couch and read the papers. Plan to watch the replay of the Mariners game, which we already know from hearing a wrap-up on the radio on the way to the library, will be a win that included a triple-play and some kind of dramatic home run by Franklin Gutierrez. One of life’s little pleasures is watching an M’s game when you already know the positive outcome.
Day 27, Mon July 27: Last week we went to the Verizon store to get Elena a new phone since hers was acting up. By the time we came home I had a new IPhone 6 myself.
Desmond, the guy at the store, was charming. He seemed highly amused that we had IPhone 4s. But actually the phone I had worked fine for me. If they didn’t build in the obsolescence and then try to make you feel ashamed for not having the Newest Thing, I would probably stick with what I was familiar with. I mean, it was working for what I needed it for: texting, email, checking the internet, running a stopwatch. But I am glad to have the new phone, too. So far the only problems are that when it transferred over all of the stuff from my old phone, not everything transferred. So, for example, it is asking me for passwords for various email accounts and of course I don’t have the slightest idea what the password is. This morning I got most of them loaded, but one alias mail account I use is still rejecting the password so I will have to figure it out later.
One cool new thing, though, is that this phone opens by reading my thumbprint instead of with a password. Also, it has a fun basic Health app that shows how many steps I take, which is great because I like to take my walk almost daily. The app is certain to make me kind of obnoxious at keeping track of the details. My old habit had been to start my phone’s stopwatch and time my walk and then do a calculation of 15 minutes per mile to guesstimate the mileage. One hour walk = four miles. I didn’t have a Map My Run or anything. So the new Health app is better. Our walk today at Lakemont, a nice park with rolling hills to the south of us, was 3.98 miles, 7,590 steps, and an elevation gain of 32 Flights Climbed. Though later when I look at it, somehow the elevation graph has disappeared from the dashboard and of course it is not at all intuitive or obvious how to restore it; I’ll have to figure it out later.
Also, major news flash, I finally figured out a way to make the plum juice drinkable: Rum & Plum! Why did it take me so long to think of this: crushed ice, two capfuls of rum, a skosh of plum juice, fill the rest of the tumbler with lemonade, add mint leaves. Sit and sip. Super tasty and the combination is sweetish, but not too much. We don’t even really drink alcohol any more so who knows how the bottle of rum got into the liquor cabinet. However it happened, I’m glad somebody around here has the motto Be Prepared. The plums grew in our backyard and sometimes you’ve got to do whatever it takes for the sake of Eating Locally.
Day 28, Tue July 28: Just a regular nice, hot, sunny July day. Enid has to run some paintings into south Seattle at 4 o’clock to hang them at the Union Bar in Hillman City, a hip spot. She’s going to have a show there for a month or so. We had to drive over to Home Depot earlier to get some picture-hanging wire. She has been painting and having shows and trying to nurture her are career for 20 years or more. The art business, as any artist or writer or musician can readily tell you, is a hard gig. No matter how good you are, it’s hard to get a break. Even if you have a lot of confidence in what you’re doing, getting some sales and recognition is a good validation. Her career is in an ascendancy and over the next year or so she will catch on with the Seattle Art Museum Gallery, which is a nice connection and also provides a steady revenue stream. It’s nothing that will allow her to quit her job but it’s fulfilling.
While she was taking care of her art business, I took care of my walk: 6.06 miles, 11,038 steps, 29 flights of elevation. I know, I know, I need to knock it off with the Health app; it is way more fascinating to me than it is to you. Other fitness news comes from Elena. She is a Division 3 varsity lacrosse player at the University of Puget Sound, and she’s really good. She texts from campus that Josh, their conditioning coach, “is really torching us” in summer workouts. She means this approvingly.
On her way home Enid called and said she’d pull off the freeway on Mercer Island to pick up dinner at Freshy’s, the little fish-fry drive up. She brings home fish & chips and fish tacos. Prompting me to paraphrase the joke Herman Melville tells in “Moby Dick” about having cod chowder and clam chowder for breakfast and throwing in a few herring to add variety.
Day 29, Wed July 29: One Trick to Make Your Retirement Great: Quit your job in summer. I’m up at 7:15 and it is another sunny day. I definitely recommend retiring when the weather is beautiful so there is no doubt you made a good choice, instead of winter when you would spend that first month in cold and dark wondering what have you done.
In fact, summertime scheduling is a good plan for any major life change. I moved to Seattle in July, 1985, right around this time of the year. Sunny, scorching days just like now. I had quit a job at the Lincoln Journal with no particular prospects here, so I was a man of leisure. I was living in Ballard, which was not like it is now; back then it was the opposite of hip. At night I would go out to the clubs – mainly blues bars at the time. Then in the morning I’d sleep late, get up, run around Green Lake, sit around and watch the other runners, go home and clean up. Rinse, repeat. Man, I thought, this is the life.
Day 30, Thu July 30: Routine day. We’re in another hot week of 90 degree days. Hot weather was fun when we were at the cabin and could sit at the beach all day. And then when that got old, paddle out in the kayaks. It’s not quite as charming when we’re just hanging around home.
I cooked up cheese omelets with potatoes and onions and we ate breakfast on the back deck at 10. It’s Seafair weekend so we can hear the Blue Angels practicing over Lake Washington but we don’t see them. Enid took Nadia down for a garden run and I took my walk. We ate a salad for lunch (all the veggies from our own garden: lettuce, carrots, kohlrabi, and cucumber). We traded our neighbor Bo a cabbage and some broccoli tops for peaches off of his super-laden tree from down by our plum and apple trees (and our disappointing cherry tree). We have a two-yard fruit orchard there. First all we did with the peaches was peel and eat. Then I had some for dessert, in a bowl with milk poured over. Then Enid made Dutch Babies for breakfast — it’s kind of a free-form pastry bowl, somewhere in between a light pie shell and a puff – and we just dumped fresh peaches over the top. They were good! Recommended.
I got an email from the Bellevue College’s Human Resources department telling me that they had processed my VEBA payout. This is the rollover from my accumulated sick leave that I had left when I hit the end of the line; it goes into an investment account and then I can draw it down to get reimbursed for medical expenses (at least that is how I understand it, and I don’t have a ton of faith that I actually do understand it completely). Anyway, they said I would be hearing from the company managing it going forward. It was good to get the note. I had actually been wondering what was up with VEBA, since it is one of the last untied strings still hanging out there from my first wave of retirement paperwork. So this is good sign, that it seems to be happening routinely. In retirement, the more things that can happen on automatic pilot so you don’t have to think about them, the better.
Meanwhile, back in the real world of rodent wars: I pretty much have a mouse every day in the trap outside along the foundation, I caught one in the basement-hall furnace closet, Enid saw a rat in her studio when she moved some stored paintings so I set some rat traps up there, Nadia chased a mouse around the garden so Enid wants to fortify down there. Pest Control is turning out to be a pretty good encore career for me.
Even though every day is filled with domestic chores, I won’t list every load of laundry or rug vacuumed. For one, that would get old fast and, for two, it would probably be overwhelming for me to see how much I’m doing when I want to have a self-image of myself as a retired slacker. Anyway, while I do a bunch of that stuff involving dryer sheets and Swiffers I put on a pretty good mix-CD called “2012” with everything from Tuneyards to Pitbull to Robert Randolph. I nuke a plate of leftover eggplant parmesan. Of course we don’t have air conditioning – it’s only hot here a few days a year — so I have a room-fan going in the TV room/office with a bowl full of ice set in front of it. It’s not that effective. I turn on the TV to watch the M’s game. They’re not effective either and lose to the Twins.
Day 31, Fri July 31: We set the alarm to get up at 8am and drive 20 minutes over to Poo Poo Point south of Issaquah on the western shoulder of Tiger Mountain. We are going to meet up with Enid’s old colleague Jim to take a hike before the morning cloud layer burns off and it gets too hot. Jim is a great guy who teaches shop at Interlake High, which is where Enid met him when she started out teaching French there 20 years ago. He also runs a one-man bulldozing and tree-cutting business and we’ve hired him a couple of times to cut and trim some trees to give us a clear view of Mount Rainier from our house. He’s always witty and good company and today is no exception.
Poo Poo Point is a weird name that probably should have been focus-grouped a few more times, but it is a good place to hike. The trail is seven miles, which is long but not out of my tolerances, and the elevation gain is 1,900 feet. Straight up, in other words. It’s a real challenge for me but it is worth it when we reach the top. We are right at the place where the hang gliders launch, and close to the nudist camp.
Elena rode horses for several years at Tiger Mountain Stables near here. The owner, Gary, was one of the best people involved in that whole “it takes a village” thing when she was growing up. He was classic cowboy, kind of soft-spoken and understatedly funny. He moved around with the slightest limp that told the story of his rodeo career. He had worked as a movie stuntman and now he taught stunts at the stables; sometimes we would be there for riding lessons and students would be learning how to fall from a cherry picker into a pile of foam rubber. He still did acting in commercials and sometimes he would rock a cowboy moustache when a role called for it. Elena loved to ride the horses (Tater, Rose, Friday) and she equally adored hanging around and killing time by sweeping the floor or doing little tasks Gary would make up for her. Or playing with Frank and Noodle the barn cats. One time when she was still pretty pint-sized he sent her down to the pasture just the other side of the riding ring to bring back one of the horses. “There’s no saddle,” she said. “Figure it out,” he said. She did. Gary used to joke about the nudists proximity to his trail ride routes, “We don’t see them a lot. But when we do, we see a lot of them.”
Today on our hike we see neither nudists nor hang gliders, although there are many other walkers on the trail so it is a very social scene, in a trail-hiking way. The vista from the top is gorgeous, northwest over Issaquah toward downtown Bellevue, with Mount Rainier to the left and Squak and Cougar Mountains in the near view. Conversation covers the waterfront from the ethics of big game hunting, to chaperoning school trips, to the need for hydrating on hikes, to the most efficient ways to smoke hash oil, to residential water-saving methods. And retirement tips. For once I am the expert providing them to an aspiring retiree, not hearing other people’s ideas directed at me. At the top, we sit at a picnic table and eat a snack of trail mix and apple slices, then head down. My legs are a little shaky at times on the descent so it is definitely working me.