Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement
Day 185, Fri Jan 1, 2016: We welcome in the New Year at our Hood Canal getaway cabin.
It’s a two-hour drive from home (sometimes we take the West Seattle ferry part way, sometimes we drive around through Tacoma), beyond Belfair, beyond Tahuya, where eventually the paved road falls off to a gravel lane. There’s room for two cars to pass, but it’s wise to drive really slow and enjoy the view.
Our cabin is part of a co-op with 25 vacation homes, each sitting on a property circle, and then the rest of the land is common property (forest, trails, beachfront). Not to over-generalize, but the people are tree-hugging land stewards or they wouldn’t be here. The founders of this place, around 1950, had a brilliant concept: all of the cabins sit back from the beach in the woods, so none are visible from the beach. That way, when you are walking on the mile or so of rocky northwest beach front, you never feel like you are trespassing in somebody’s yard.
For example, our place is about a half-block up a path from the cove where everybody stashes their kayaks and sailboards. We see a peep of the water through the trees from our deck. This was Enid’s family getaway, so she’s been coming here all her life. Elena’s been coming here since she was two months old. I’ve been coming here since I was 37.
When I was a kid, my own family had cabins (what we called “shacks”) on the Platte River – one was on an island in the middle of the river — that had much in common with this place, taking into account the very different views you get out the front door. On the Platte we had no electricity or plumbing, a wood cook stove, pull-down murphy beds, the real white light and hissing sound of Coleman lanterns. We would be rousted out in the middle of the night to run the set lines. You had to pull on your damp, sandy jean shorts then walk in the waist-deep river near the bank, in the circle of light from the flashlight shined on you from shore, checking the lines to see if we had hooked any channel catfish. My dad: “keep the bait bucket up, don’t let the bait bucket get under the water.” In the winter we could ice skate on the frozen river; I learned to skate hanging onto a kitchen chair that I could push along the surface to maintain my balance.
Our place here at Hood Canal is wonderfully rudimentary compared to anything more posh than those Platte shacks. It’s about 500 square-feet, basically one main living room with a wood fireplace (there are also electric heaters) and the kitchen in a corner, with full glass doors out to the deck facing the water. Brown indoor-outdoor carpeting. Not really insulated. To use the bathroom, you go outside onto the front porch and through a separate door. To go to sleep, it’s up a spiral stair to a loft bedroom that has a curtain we pull for privacy to make it into two rooms.
No TV or anything: we read books, play cards or table games (mainly a 1970s version of Trivial Pursuit, and sometimes Milles Borne or Parcheesi), listen to music on the CD/cassette boom box. (Cassettes! It’s always 1978.). Sometimes if we’ve had a deadline project we’ve brought laptops to do a little work, but we try to avoid even that. Now we can usually get a connection on our phones but a decade ago we had to go down to the beach, get in a kayak and drift out 20 feet so that we could make a call. Then for a while we had to stand right by the sliding doors and sometimes you could hear the other person but they couldn’t hear you.
In other words, it is wonderfully off the grid and a total decompression chamber from any real-world stressors a person is suffering.
Today it’s cold outside, in the 40s, and we see an unusual phenomenon we’ve never seen before: ice sheets on the canal itself. Down at what is called South Beach – maybe 200 yards along the rocky shore from the cove straight below our place – is a fire pit, picnic tables, horseshoe pit and a rough boule court. We meet a friend, David, who also has a cabin in the co-op, for a boule competition. Boys v Girls.
After that we pick a bucketful of oysters from the beach that we will cook in the oven and eat with butter and soy sauce. Back at the cabin we find an unexpected treat: a half-full bottle of port in the back of the wine cupboard and that is pretty tasty late afternoon aperitif.
Day 186, Sat Jan 2: Elena and I do a Northshore Road run and walk from the cabin. A few miles out we meet a guy hauling some sizable lengths of downed tree trunk along the road on the bucket of his little John Deere front loader. He stops to chat and introduces himself as “Brad, from Mile 21.” Our cabin is at about Mile 23. He’s impressed with Elena’s running because he is training for a marathon himself. It turns out he lives out here full-time, and his place must be more “house” than “cabin.” It is mostly OK, he says, except when his Verizon wireless connections chump out on him and he can’t get any business done. Presumably when that happens he goes out and hauls tree trunks around.
Yesterday I started a one-year Instagram project called “Took a Walk Saw This” – I take a picture on my walk and post it every day to Instagram and some days to Facebook. This gives some extra purpose to my walks but also turns a relaxed activity into a lightly obsessive one. Over the next year I will accumulate the 365 photos. Many of these pictures are just whatever is in front of me (often a trail going off into the distance). I’m usually in nature but sometimes in the urban environment. Occasionally these are panoramas or vistas, sometimes these are close-ups of a flower or something.
I take the walks for pleasure, because I like to, and for the health benefits – physical, mental and spiritual. They’re contemplative. I have interior dialogues – and sometimes these burst out and become exterior ones. But the photo project doesn’t interfere with any of these benefits. I just try to keep my eyes open. Sometimes the image is a step above the norm. Maybe something cool catches my eye. Occasionally a nice composition presents itself, or an eye-catching mood, and then I actually get a good photo. Maybe there is something metaphorical about it – the trail into the unknown. Or sometimes it’s just a snapshot.
Over the next few months, somewhat to my surprise, “Took a Walk Saw This” builds up a mini-following among my Facebook friends and also new followers on Instagram. After I have been posting for a few months I will ask what others get out of it. Some say they just like the pictures. Some are inspired to take walks, too. Quite a few already take walks themselves so when they like my pix it feels like they are participating in a little virtual walking club (I have this feeling myself, since we are demonstrably like-minded folks, if only on this topic). Others say the photos are a reminder to them to “look” at the world around them, not just move through it without observing.
(Long aside here: once when I was still working at Bellevue College we had an all-staff day built around the healthy work-life balance. Everybody was feeling overwhelmed, overworked, overstressed. This is the unsolvable constant in most workplaces most of the time but it had bubbled over at BC. One of the sessions I attended was about living the purposeful life. Quite a lot of it was too twee for me: eating the trail mix one seed at a time, ringing a Zen bell to get us in and out of inward gazing, concentrating on breathing in and breathing out. But the one really legit thing the facilitator said that stuck with me was to – literally – stop and notice the flowers. She was talking about the two minutes from the parking lot to the office, and I did start trying to be more aware and appreciative of that two-block walk every day. But the notion transfers to being generally open to the world around you. It seems healthy. And if you are already living a stress-free life as a retiree, all the better to include a walk with your senses open to sights, sounds, smells.)
OK, back to “Took A Walk, Saw This.” Still others who chimed in said they live elsewhere and enjoy seeing the Washington scenes. A few don’t walk but are glad I do so that they can get vicarious kicks. And still others say they are simply happy to see that I am out enjoying myself and doing something positive and they want to encourage me.
Speaking of walks, after supper we walk over to another cabin a quarter-mile away to drink wine and eat popcorn and play cards with David and Iona.
Day 187, Sun Jan 3: Drove home from the cabin via Belfair and Tacoma, about a two-hour trip. Sometimes, just depending on what we feel like, we take the Southworth Ferry across to West Seattle but today we motored all the way. We were going to stop for lunch at Kelly’s in Gig Harbor, where we like the menu and especially the milkshakes, but it was slightly snowing so we decided to get Taco Del Mar to eat in the car instead, in case the weather worsened. Then we took the wrong exit and actually had to eat Subway. Oh, well, the snow was pretty.
Got home (no snow here) and watched the second half of the Seahawks kicking Arizona’s butt. Checked in for just a few minutes to the Sunday Night game, Green Bay v Minnesota on the frozen tundra. At one point they cut to a close-up of the Packers’ offensive line and at exactly the same time with exactly the same inflection – a mix of disbelief and mockery, both Elena and I said, “Look at those guys!” We’ve watched way too much football together.
Later we put in a DVD she found in a drawer of “Nosferatu” (the Herzog one from the Seventies) which she had never seen. It was definitely old-fashioned but totally watchable – we knew it was going to move slowly and we only got bored and skipped forward about 15 minutes towards the end. Moody, gloomy and, of course, Klaus Kinski’s lustful torment is beyond creepy.
Day 188, Mon Jan 4: While I’m keeping this obsessive day-by-day journal, I’m like the guy on Mars in “The Martian” recording everything because he figures they will find it after he’s dead. That may turn out to be the case for me, too. Like the stranded astronaut, I am all about my daily tasks and personal observations in this journal and only occasionally raise my eyes up and refer in here to things going on in the world – mostly the weather and sports, but also the election campaigning and so forth. So, while it may not be entirely obvious that I am actually aware of what’s up in the news, in fact I am not living entirely in my little self-referential bubble.
But lots of people are documenting and commenting on those things in the news. The wars and tragedies, the politics, the local seventh graders who built a prosthetic robotic arm. I’m the only one keeping a daily journal about me. To the best of my knowledge, anyway.
Day 189, Tue Jan 5: Elena and I went to the 11:20am showing of the last Hunger Games’ movie, “Mockingjay.” Pretty good film. Jennifer Lawrence is good in all kinds of movies, especially the great “American Hustle” from a few years ago.
Then we drove out and took a long afternoon walk along Sammamish River, starting at Marymoor Park this time and going north, almost – but not quite — as far as 60 Acres Park and back.
On the way home we listen to the chatter on sports talk radio. When I was working I used to listen to the morning drive-time “Brock & Salk” or afternoon “Danny, Dave & Moore,” twice a day on my 15-minute three-mile stress-free commute. Their nonsense was a calming way to decompress. Now, I listen to this almost never, so it’s fun to tune in once in a while to hear their inane repartee. I like it.
They are the epitome of the clichéd Neanderthal sports guys. The only sports they actually talk about are pro and college football, Mariners baseball and maybe a little bit of college basketball. On any given day the afternoon show will be talking about the exact same topics that the morning show talked about, with the exact same perspectives. I assume that hundreds of other shows in hundreds of other cities are covering precisely the same ground, just substituting their local teams for the Seattle versions. It is not a field for independent thinking. Other sports really don’t exist for these guys. No soccer, no tennis, no golf, no women’s sports, no Olympics. And forget something like lacrosse.
Until today, when I clicked on 710 ESPN Seattle while I was driving someplace, it hadn’t even occurred to me that one of my work-life routines had disappeared. I guess it didn’t leave that big of a hole in my life.
I read the local newspaper sports pages (along with the rest of the paper). They are barely broader in their coverage than sports talk radio. But the paper does have weird stuff like an extensive fishing report once a week, and they’ll cover soccer and give a sidewise glance to women’s sports. I even read the tiny agate type on the “Fanfare” page of the sports section – the box scores and the transactions, for teams I have no connection with in sports I myself barely care about. Hockey. Nascar. Idiotic, I know.
I’m a fan of women’s sports, since I like to watch all fair-fight matchups if they’re playing hard. I’m sure it helps that I’ve got a competitive daughter I’ve been watching running around on the field since she was little. Sexists who boycott women’s athletics on the basis that the women aren’t as good athletes as men miss the point. They say they only want to watch the best. But by that logic you would only ever watch the championship game of the pro leagues – everything else is less than the best.
One sport I used to care about was basketball but Seattle doesn’t have a men’s pro team any more so I don’t follow it too closely. Sometimes I will watch a game on TV if nothing better is on, if there’s no curling or skiing roller-derby. So my interest in actually watching games has waned. But I will check the NBA box scores to see how former Huskies or Zags did the night before. (There are no Cornhuskers playing in the NBA, although Tyronn Lue represented the Big Red big-time this year when he coached the Cavaliers to the championship.) I say I’m not much of an NBA fan, but I am probably the only person on the planet who is looking to see how Spencer Hawes did last night for Carolina, or how CJ Wilcox, Robert Sacre, Jamaal Crawford, Kelly Olynyk or Isaiah Thomas performed. Hey, check it out, David Stockton got signed to a 10-day contract. In my own way I’m at least as pathetic as the sports-talk radio guys, probably moreso.
Day 190, Wed Jan 6: Popped over to Best Buy to buy a new laptop for Elena. Hers was shot: she more or less fried the hard drive (though, thankfully, her data could be recovered and transferred to the new machine) and, also, the hinges on the cover were kaput. She did a little research and picked a Lenovo Yoga, the one you can flip back and forth to be a laptop or a tablet.
Then she took it into A-Plus Computer Repair (I know, the name sounds like something out of the Ladies’ Number One Detective Agency books), the little business next to Lawrence the Florist where I’ve also had great customer service in the past. Alan took care of it for her.
While it was dropped off, we swung a few blocks away to have lunch at Broiler Bay, a fabulous little hole-in-the-wall burger joint. This is one of those great places that you have to know about to know about. A famous obscure spot. Broiler Bay has a lot going for it. First, location, location, location. it is tucked behind a men’s consignment shop, “The Gentlemen’s Rack,” so you don’t really even see it from the street. You walk in and they are cooking right there in front of you in the middle of the room. There are a few rickety high tables along the windows, with Coke-branded stools repaired with duct tape. Then there’s a narrow back room — or possibly side room — with a bunch of tables and chairs. The linoleum’s a little cracked.
The menu is burgers, chicken burgers, fish burgers, fries, onion rings and shakes. It is one step from the kind of place where the menu is a burger and fries and your options are Big Fries or Little Fries. Maybe they let you decide Coke or Pepsi? The food at Broiler Bay cannot be beat. We had chicken burgers, and split an order of onion rings and a vanilla shake.
On the wall are reviews from publications like USA Today, including Broiler Bay in its “Top 25 USA Burger Joints.” Right alongside that is an ancient clipping from the local weekly paper calling it the most popular spot with Bellevue High students. There’s an old, faded, autographed photo of former Sonic Ray Allen. There are some ancient group pictures of bygone Broiler Bay employees.
It’s the kind of little mom & pop place that unfortunately disappears from most urban downtowns. Little Box stores with names like A-Plus Computer Repair and Lawrence the Florist and Broiler Bay and The Gentlemen’s Rack seem doomed don’t they? And God knows downtown Bellevue is full of nothing but construction cranes. But for now these outstanding businesses are surviving, maybe even thriving for all I know. It is probably apocryphal but I have heard that some of the downtown billion-dollar-deal makers, once they have hammered out the details on their latest skyscraper, do the final handshake over burgers at Broiler Bay for good luck. I like to think that’s true.
Day 191, Thu Jan 7: My Seattle Times has been showing up soaked. It’s not thrown right out in the driveway, it gets delivered to a little cubby underneath my mailbox, so it is somewhat protected. You would think – but you would be wrong — that in the winter in Seattle they would just stick it in one of those plastic bags and call it good. On a few days it has arrived a little damp, but still readable. Some days it has been more saturated but still I could pull the pages apart and dry it out on the living room floor and then read it. It was even a bit charming – once – when the pages dried all wrinkly like parchment. The charm wore off when the whole thing was waterlogged, a sodden lump.
It’s irritating but it’s only occasional so I put up with it. I will finally hit my limit two months from now, in March. I don’t expect much of my Seattle Times (I expect almost nothing journalism-wise) but dryness is towards the top of my current checklist. In March I will finally email the paper’s CEO and she’s really responsive. She bumps it down the ladder to the guy in charge of home deliveries – who is also really responsive — and I’m sure some poor carrier gets the word: be sure to put this guy’s paper in a plastic bag and protect it from the elements. For the most part this works and I become a happy customer – an informed citizen — reading a dry newspaper.
Day 192, Fri Jan 8: I want to be a better person. Honest. I want people to like me but I’m not strung out on being a people-pleaser. Whoever you are, you’re welcome here, but not needed.
Day 193, Sat Jan 9: While pouring smoothies into glasses, Enid discovers that the pouring lip of the blender has chipped off. I find it at the bottom of the dishwasher.
When I start looking online for a replacement part – Glass Jar for Black and Decker blender BL1900 – it turns out to be a slightly rare item. A bunch of sources don’t have it available anymore. I finally find one on the well-named ReplacementParts.com (motto: “Fixing Things Makes Sense”). $30.58 including shipping. (These are the kind of unexpected $30.58 emergencies you can’t plan for in your retirement household budget. Probably has to fall under “misc”.)
I don’t remember how long I’ve had it but this blender is pretty old. It still works so I am by no means ready to dump it for a new one. And once I find the part it turns out to be a simple do-it-yourself repair. When the new jar arrives in a few days it is easy to unscrew the base-and-blade from the old jar and put it on the new one. Takes just two minutes. If only all repairs went like that.
It was so smooth and stress-free that I’m not doing any more repairs on anything this week, just claiming victory and moving on. I’m not sure if it’s somehow the place and era I was brought up in or some other tendency about repair and reuse, but I kind of fight against obsolescence and waste and throwing things out when I can fix an old item. I’ve got my limits, like anybody; I’m not darning up socks. And, actually, the blender that I had before this one was a vintage olive green Waring Blender that I had for even more years, probably starting in the 70s. I don’t remember now if it finally quit blending or if I couldn’t get parts or if we just decided to upgrade one year to the current Black and Decker. Which itself is now a classic.
Day 194, Sun Jan 10: Seahawks win!! Seahawks win!! In an unbelievable miracle, the Hawks beat the Vikings 10-9 when Minnesota’s field-goal kicker misses a point-blank game-winner with just a few seconds left on the clock. It was below zero the whole game and it was an old-school grind-out. Ugly. Victory. And the Hawks advance in the playoffs.
When I take my walk around the neighborhood later I maneuver around three different dads throwing a football with their kids in the street. I meet another guy walking who simply makes eye contact and says to me “Sometimes better lucky than good,” I pass two different walking groups of women in either #3 (Russell Wilson) or #24 (Marshawn Lynch) or #12 (The Twelves, the fans) jerseys. There is a video post on Facebook of the audience at the Seattle show for “Book of Mormon” – just before the curtain and just as they give the “turn off your cellphones” message, the game is decided and the crowd – who clearly have not turned off their cellphones — goes nuts, roaring applause and chanting. I wonder what the cast of “Book of Mormon” backstage thought.
Day 195, Mon Jan 11: I have been paying my bills by writing a check and mailing it in since back when the world was swirling gasses so I have to buy stamps once in a while. This also gives me the opportunity for a social outing.
I drive to the Factoria post office – the one by Jing Jing Market — where I bump into an old colleague, Jim, in the parking lot. I actually only worked with him for about a month at the end of my Bellevue College tenure but we clicked in that brief time. Oddly, I have now seen him twice since I retired, which equals the total of other former colleagues I’ve run into in six months. He stands in line with me and we have a nice chat about how things are going for me and for him. It’s rainy and cold and I am wearing running shoes, hiking socks, cargo shorts, T-shirt and sweatshirt and a rain jacket. He’s dressed for the office. Draw your own conclusions.
Day 196, Tue Jan 12: In the morning I sorted out a minor confusion over paying Elena’s tuition for this upcoming semester; the Puget Sound financial office is extremely helpful. I couldn’t figure out how to pay it online the way I wanted to (partly with a GET payment and partly with a regular transfer from my checking account) but once they explained, it was easy.
Then at noon Elena and I drove down to Tacoma to deliver a few more items to the house she’s moving into for spring semester. While we’re there we stop by the athletics fieldhouse and workout gym – the whole facility is being renovated but it’s open while the work is going on around it. We go to nearby Jefferson Park where she runs and I walk. And then we stop on our way out of town to get an extremely tasty sandwich at MSM Deli, one of those down-at-the-heels eateries we love where the only thing remarkable is the food.
On the way back to Bellevue there was an accident on I-405 that had cars backed up for three miles but we saw the sign just in time to cut off the freeway into Renton and then wend across town on surface arterials to make it home without getting stuck in the stopped traffic. Some days are lucky days. Cherish them.
Day 197, Wed Jan 13: I like to read books. It was only a few years ago when everybody was atwitter that Books Are Dead (which led to the corollary anxiety that reading is dead). That happened not too long after we had all converted to The Paperless Office. That paperless thing worked out pretty clean, I think. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what happened but my memory is a little hazy.
It was within memory that nobody was going to read a paper book anymore. Everything was going to be on a Kindle (or the wanna-be Kindle, the Nook – you’ve heard of that one, right?). The technodazzled led the cheers and, publishers naively grabbed the tail of the elephant in front of them and walked in an orderly line. Anyway, the whole Books Are Dead thing is now over and nobody’s saying it any more.
It was pretty quick and the Kindle seems to be on its way to join the Googleglass, the I-Pod, the beeper, the Betamax, the Walkman, the IBM Selectric. I’m sure plenty of people are still reading their books on a Kindle, and good for them. I think it’s positive for the society if anybody is reading a book in any format. Or having it read to them, by their mom or a voice streaming on their car system. It’s just not the way I do it. As Homer Simpson says, that ain’t my style, man.
Remember Kindle’s big marketing pitch? That you don’t have to carry a dozen books on your vacation to the beach; they’re all loaded on your 1-1/2-pound Kindle. Well, the dozen-books-at-the-beach crowd isn’t going to backslide, they’ll keep e-reading. Some of them are probably happy about this recent trend back to paper books, and some feeling sad and cheated.
It reminds me of a generation ago when a big selling point for the earliest wave of home computers was that you could use them in the kitchen for looking up recipes and cooking. I’m not sure who thought that was an unmet need or the most persuasive pitching point. Although I have to be honest: in our house that has finally come partly true after 30 years or so; we do often have the I-Pad open on the kitchen counter to cook a meal from Cooking Light or Martha Stewart or some other site. And I often cook from online recipes even if I have them on the desktop PC and I have to run back and forth from the kitchen to the office to check the directions.
And forget the kitchen, let’s talk about the bedroom. A book in bed is way more snuggly than a “device” (a device intended for book-reading at least). I know this pro-book stance makes me sound like a Luddite and I hope that’s not accurate. It’s definitely a long way of saying that I like to read and, secondly, I have never found books too heavy to carry around, even to the beach. But I’m losing muscle mass, so who can say what the next 30 years will do to my book-toting limits.
Day 198, Thu Jan 14: Pretty much all of my working life I went to bed at 9-10-11 o’clock (OK, when I was young and single I would sometimes have a 4am bedtime on a work night, but that aside . . . ). I always set my alarm for 6:15 and had a morning routine that got me to work about eight. I was an early bird in the office.
Since the day I walked away I still go to bed at 9-10-11 o’clock (and, actually, 8:30 is in the mix now, too) but I have only set my alarm a couple of times, like when I needed to make an early run to the airport. My biorhythms quickly re-set. For the first few months I would wake up and then get up around 9 in the morning, give or take 30 minutes. In the past few months I’ve adjusted a little, so I rouse at 7:30 or 8.
I wake up a couple of times in the night, like any old person, to stumble down the hallway to the bathroom and pee. And I often am vaguely aware of Enid getting ready for work at 6 – drawers quietly opening, hairdryer blowing behind the bathroom door, steps in the upstairs hallway — but I am always able to drop back for a few more hours of that top-quality snooze that the subconscious taps into when you’re sort-of awake.
This is only worth remarking on today because I uncharacteristically got up at 7 this morning. Elena had a dentist appointment so I rode over to Dr. Wentworth’s with her. Then when she was done she changed into running clothes in the bathroom of the dental building and we worked out on the path that runs from Walmart to the fruit stand — or to Lost Lake if you keep going, which we did. Elena bought some orthotics inserts at Shoes N Feet right there where we parked. We bought her a new laptop case. Bought groceries. She made us quesadillas for lunch.
Check it out: all of this accomplished by noon. There is a lot to be said for early rising in the productivity department but I have to throw in a cautionary note: by early afternoon Dad needs a nap.
Day 199, Fri Jan 15: I’m sneaking up on the half-year mark of retirement and standing back for a minute to take stock. Experts say that new retirees experience a few common emotional surprises if they’re caught unawares.
Number One seems to be the need for purpose, when the novelty of being on permanent vacation wears off after six months. For many people this leads to either an encore career or volunteering at something “meaningful.” I haven’t hit this wall yet. I definitely have plenty of activities to keep me busy, I’m not bored, and I am fulfilled – although it’s true that most of the things I’m doing are selfish and about getting my own life in order, not for some greater good.
Another shared surprise, which seems connected to the first one, is “time freedom.” Without the time structure of working, people drift. Apparently at about the one-year mark of retirement they realize that time is their new currency and they start shedding less-important clutter in their lives and focusing on the important, fulfilling things. Again, I don’t feel like I’m missing the boat on this one, and I certainly don’t feel surprised by having extra time in retirement. To be totally redundant from the last paragraph, I’m busy enough. And, of course, I have my never-ending lists and schedules to keep my time budget on track.
And, finally, a third surprise is a mash-up of the first two: it can be a struggle to arrange your new life without the workplace’s structure of social connections and sense of purpose. This can jump over into long-standing roles at home: who vacuums the hall rug or pays the bills. But, as you know if you’ve read this far, replacing office tasks with domestic chores has been part of my plan all along. I’m only partly joking when I say that, so far, the structure of doing the laundry or cooking dinner have been really good ways for me to occupy my time. Just regular life seems to fill up most of my days, I haven’t had to go looking purposefully for meaning. Maybe that’s going to come in the second six months of retirement but for now, I’m good.
Day 200, Sat Jan 16: Part of being retired is pinching pennies. This is pretty easy for me since I am frugal both by nature and by practice.
One of my ways to be a little more economical is to let my magazine subscriptions lapse until I’m basically down to zero. This may not sound like much but I’m saving a few hundred bucks a year. Now I check out my magazines (including some I would never subscribe to) from the library – three or four back issues at a time.
I still subscribe to the Seattle Times and the weekend New York Times. I like to read the actual paper, not scan the online version. I’ll probably be their last subscriber. (Just to put this in perspective and demonstrate my consistency, I also still have a couple of aol email accounts that I use, one for actual emailing and another that is a fake account for when I need to enter an email but I don’t really want any communication with the organization – I also have a gmail, but the aol ones work just fine. I am like an endangered species or one of those old people who is the last speaker of a tribal dialect.
In a few years, academics will want to study me as a surviving example of these near-extinct practices. They can get ahold of me through my aol email.) By the time I finally give up on reading the daily paper, it will be down to four pages, like the flyer from Trader Joe’s. Or, more probably, like Parade magazine which, between the dying print journalism industry and its sub-AARP view of its readership, is already giving off a rattle every time it breathes.
Anyway, The Seattle Times is not very good, but that is not even a complaint because I don’t read it to enjoy fine reporting and writing. On the contrary, the quality of journalism is laughable and the writing is hideous. The local columnists are the least rigorous thinkers since sophomore year. And I understand that the dead newspaper industry cannot support quality journalism on its carcass. Instead, the Times has value for me because it is the place where I am going to read about local Seattle issues that aren’t going to get covered elsewhere. Where else am I going to keep up with murders in Kent or gas leaks in Greenwood? Plus I like to work the crossword puzzle (and Jumble and WonderWord) and the online crossword puzzle is an even worse experience than the online newspaper, hard as that is to imagine.
For many of the same reasons, I really enjoy our little free weekly Bellevue Reporter that comes out on Fridays (and usually doesn’t get delivered to my mailbox until Monday but, again, no problem). That’s where I keep up with Bellevue-centric issues like the disruption to business when a raccoon walked into Chik-Fil-A. Headlines like “Surrey Downs Residents Left High and Dry by Sewer Overflow” or “Tech Giants’ Staffers Caught in Prostitution Sweep.”
My source for even more hyper-local issues like mailbox thieves in Horizon View is Nextdoor.com. This is where I keep up on South Bellevue garage sales, lost pets, handyperson recommendations and warnings about suspicious vans in the neighborhood that usually turn out to be Amazon or dry-cleaning deliveries. Anything more localized than that I have to rely on neighborhood gossip for my news.
Day 201, Sun Jan 17: The Seahawks got bounced from the playoffs by the Panthers, so my lust for professional violence has to be shelved for now. For the next month I will turn my loyalties to the Washington Huskies basketball teams, both the men’s and women’s squads. Then University of Puget Sound Logger lacrosse will start and I can be obsessed with that.
Day 202, Mon Jan 18: Enid and I took our walk from Crossroads, going north five miles through the Microsoft campus and back. I found a nickel and a penny together in the Crossroads parking lot and, about an hour later, another penny on the sidewalk. So, a profitable revenue stream for the day. On the walk, we saw a poem in a bus shelter, one of those “art in transit” projects that government bus companies are always doing. It was titled “Nostalgia” and was in Spanish.
Today is the MLK holiday so the Marketplace Stage at Crossroads had day-long entertainment. As we were leaving, an all-white choir took the stage wearing kinte cloth scarves draped over their robes. Not sure what I thought about that, but I definitely noticed. When we came back through, on the tail-end of our walk, it was a good group of older black guys doing sweet covers of Eighties soul hits: Al Green, LeVert, Ashford & Simpson. We stayed to rest a few minutes and watch a college-age “spoken word” artist. I like poetry, but usually I don’t find poetry readings remotely appealing, whether traditional or poetry-slam style. This guy was good. His poem had an MLK Day message, was really cleverly crafted, and the young man put some emotion into it. It takes guts to get up and perform.
Day 203, Tue Jan 19: Elena has headed back down to Tacoma, where her classes start up today. It was great to have her around for a month. She had a few friends who were on campus over the break so she popped down there a few times. And while she has not had much interest in keeping in touch with her high school crowd, she has a few special friends left over from that era that she met for Thai food or hanging out.
But a lot of evenings we all hung around the house doing our paperwork and watching TV. Daytimes, she and I were together and, for a few weeks Enid was on break so it was all family time. Any parent of an adult kid who is achieving things will tell you that it can really make you proud. In my case, to be punching above my weight class thanks to her intellect is really fulfilling, she’s way smarter and more accomplished than me. The whole month she was here my priority number one was to hang out with her when possible. So I punted on my phobic little to-do lists and daily routines, but I will get back to them now that I don’t have any normalizing factors to impede me.
Made oven-roasted barbecue chic ken drumsticks with veggie-refried-rice for dinner.
Day 204, Wed Jan 20: As the great singer Bill Withers says, I probably spend too much time thinking about how I should be spending my time. So when my Facebook feed gets jammed full of listicles like the “Eleven Things That Are Cheaper in Retirement,” I read, but I don’t get too many takeaways. I’m already doing most of things they recommend. I almost clicked a link that would have taken me to “How to Stop Thinking Too Much and Just Be.” Stopped myself just in time.
I’m going turkey-breast sandwiches and – since I made vegetable stock — veggie soup for supper tonight.
Day 205, Thu Jan 21: It’s rainy and really fogged in but I was able to power through a five-mile walk during a lull. I’m doing my 365-day Instagram project where I am trying to post a picture every day with the message “Took a walk, saw this” and various hashtags like #walkabout and #upperleft. Some days I have to cheat and post a photo I actually took on a different day but c’est la vie. Today I got an atmospheric shot of some Douglas firs looming out of the mist.
Dinner: Beans & rice, salad, fruit salad.
Day 206, Fri Jan 22: It’s a beautiful day; 60 degrees, sunny with clouds. I threw open the doors for an hour with just the screens and let the house air out a little.
In the early evening, Enid has a painting in a group show based around the theme of clouds and the opening is at Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands. The quality of the artworks is really good; that’s not always the case with group shows. The opening was a lot of fun. Blakely Hall is a community meeting hall but the space for the show is lovely. It’s packed and lively and a lot of Enid’s friends come. A guitar duo over in the corner is playing instrumentals like “Twine Time” and “Peter Gunn.” I drink a couple of glasses of wine and enjoy myself.
After the opening we came home and had a late dinner of chicken pot pie (the one we like that we buy at Trader Joe’s and then throw in the oven).
Day 207, Sat Jan 23: I don’t know what this means for the marijuana debate (is there even still a debate?), but I am like the opposite of addicted to weed since I bought my little mini-ziplock of bud a few months ago.
For the first month I was so out of practice that I actually forgot I had it for days at a time. Since then I’ve smoked a little bit every rare once in a while, maybe once every couple of weeks or even less often. It will turn out that my micro-stash will last until well into next fall. Basically, I’m hooked on a $10-a-year pot habit. It’s enjoyable but not super trippy or anything. I crumble a bit into the pipe, fire it up and feel slightly more buzzed than I do from drinking a glass of wine. Of course, I’m used to drinking a glass of wine pretty much every day for the past few decades so that’s a natural state for me, while toking the chronic is a first-time-in-decades and once-a-month or so experience.
But I’m a recreational weed advocate, if not exactly an activist. Since it’s obviously benign, I suppose I come down more on the side of the individual’s personal choice.
I belong to Nextdoor.com for my neighborhood (which, if you don’t have it where you live is where people in my neighborhood can post about all topics: recommendations for handymen and service, items for sale, lost pets, perceived intruders to the neighborhood). On Nextdoor, the Weed Question has not been settled. There has been a raging debate lately because Green Theory, the same store where I bought my indica downtown, is thinking about opening an outlet in nearby Factoria.
On the one side are the neighbors who think it’s a terrible idea for all the reefer-madness reasons you can think of. And some you wouldn’t. The funniest is an exchange about the nearby McDonald’s. An anti-weed poster argued that Green Theory shouldn’t be close to McDonald’s because high-school kids hang out at the Golden Arches. This is argued without apparent irony, the whole super-sized evidence of McDonald’s assault on the health of young people not mentioned until it’s brought up by a pro-weed commenter. Others think youths will enlist 21-year-olds to procure their bud. As somebody else says in the counter-argument, the high school students can buy all they want to in the Newport High parking lot, they don’t have to have an adult shop for them at Green Theory.
Day 208, Sun Jan 24: Nobody else will tell you this, but I am here to disclose that money flies into your pockets when you’re retired. I don’t know why I even opened a piece of junk mail from the Nielsen people, the TV-watching ratings people. But there was a dollar bill in there and a survey.
I grabbed the dollar and met my obligation on the survey. It was obvious from the questions that they are interested in Latino and under-25 viewers for whatever issue they are really studying, so I am not their target demographic. Marginalized again. They did have a box that I could check to let them know I watch sports, so I wasn’t totally left out.
Day 209, Mon Jan 25: I had a dentist appointment for my regular cleaning.
Ina, the hygienist who’s been cleaning our family’s teeth for several years, is a friendly chatterbox. While she has me helpless she amuses me with accounts of when she was a schoolgirl in Russia, the outfits they had to wear, the stress of national exams each year. She confides that her main recurring nightmare is that she is still in the Russian service (I’m not sure if this means the military or something else): her “contract” has expired, and yet they still keep giving her assignments.
I think she’s in her later 30s and I think she’s blonde, though I cannot say either with confidence since whenever I’m looking at her she’s wearing both her dental mask and her splatter shield.
When Dr. Wentworth comes in for his perfunctory glance at my mouth I tell him I’ve retired and he congratulates me, tells me his wife just retired from Boeing two weeks ago. Then he sighs that, in his own case, he is about to sign a new lease on his office space so he is probably not taking the long stroll into the sunset anytime soon.
Enid’s got the day off so in the afternoon we drive north up through the Woodinville Wine Valley a half-hour to Bothell, where we park at a playground and walk along the Sammamish River Trail. We see long-necked cormorants in the river; they dive and come up with little silver fish in their beaks. At one point, 75 feet across the water is a little strip of 10 or so homes jammed cheek-by-jowl and right at the river’s edge. These river homes are regular houses, however impromptu their construction. Tiny houses would be one way to describe them. River shacks would be another. The whole slightly ramshackle thing brings to mind a Duck Dynasty commune. While waterfront property is normally really pricey, this is not, from all appearances, the penthouse district.
But then I realize that these are the high-end homes in the neighborhood when, behind them, I see something even more declasse: a trailer park.
Day 210, Tue Jan 26: Pouring rain. We’re one day on, one day off. Rain, sun. Rain, sun. Rain.
One thing I can say with assurance about myself: I have modest habits. I drive cars until they drop rather than buying a new one every couple of years. We go out to eat once in a while but we actually like to cook at home, too. We have a modest little getaway cabin at Hood Canal in a setting people would die for, so I have very little desire to fly away to Dubai for a vacation.
And then, on top of that, I’m frugal to the point just beyond “quirky.” I pick up coins I see on the ground and put them in a ceramic pig (he stands upright and wears a jaunty little cloth hat) on my bedroom mantel along with change from my pocket. My daughter said once, at that age when it mattered deeply to her, “Dad, what are you doing? It’s a penny!” Yeah, I said, a penny I didn’t have a minute ago. Her embarrassment evaporated when I started taking her with me during the holidays to cash in the pig at Coinstar and split the money: a hundred bucks some years.
So now extrapolate that coins-on-the-ground attitude to employer-matches and Roth IRAs and deferred comp plans at various jobs that I always maxed out. With a few exceptions I always paid my bills. Once when we re-fied our house, the loan the officer pulled up my Credit Score and then looked across her desk at me kind of shocked that it was above their top line. I was a One Percenter credit-score-wise. What was up with that, she asked. I didn’t feel like explaining the whole piggybank thing – and my pennies off the ground strategy did not seem like the kind of narrative that would give a loan officer renewed confidence in me — so I just said I pay off my credit card statement every month. She nodded, and I was out of there in about five minutes.
So here I am in retirement. Yes, there are times when the economic news makes me feel like a chump for working and saving all those years. But, overall, regrets I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention. I did it and it’s done. I believe in the dignity of work (within reason) and I mostly liked my jobs, but it’s not like I had my self-worth all tied up in any of that. My keys were persistent saving habits, frugal spending habits, and simple activities.
And, get this, never once have I felt like I was denying myself something I really wanted. Of course, we will see how I feel in six months when that Tesla starts looking good.
For dinner, I make fish sticks, mashed potatoes and a salad.
Day 211, Wed Jan 27: I have dissatisfaction and complaints when technology works against me, not for me. When it’s intuitive and helpful, of course I like it.
Some things I skip entirely. I’ve never played a video game (since the 40-years-ago Pong or the first baseball games, which were very much like Pong). I avoided iPods entirely, even when the rest of my family was in the game. But I’ve had a cell phone since the early big “Seinfeld”- style ones, straight through flip-phones to my current iPhone. I’m not an early adapter and I’m not a sheep ready to buy every new robot-vacuum cleaner. But I’m not a Luddite, I don’t thing technology developments will be our ruination.
I see my mom-in-law, almost 90 years old, and I see – with a few personal modifications – myself in 25 years. She was apparently always a little more technophobic than I am. She was good to go with a sewing machine, but not so much with a complicated camera. She’s got a cell phone that she will use very rarely. No computer use at all so no email. Doesn’t even like to watch TV; she reads the paper. Reads books. Thinks. But if somebody is showing photos on their phone she doesn’t have any problem viewing them that way. Enid said that the other day she was driving her mom home from the plant nursery (Hepsie had finally reached the breaking point on an unsightly bush in the yard and was replacing it with something more to her liking) and they were talking about the present they would buy from the registry for an upcoming wedding shower. Enid handed her phone to her mom and with only a little coaching, Hepsie was soon swiping through the list.
Dinner: Corn chowder.
Day 212, Thu Jan 28: Enid’s car is in the shop. She’s getting all the hoses replaced (she could smell gas for a few minutes whenever she filled up), one of the valves fixed (she was going through oil like, well, an old car going through oil) and the timing belt replaced (just a good idea).
She drives a silver ’96 Toyota Rav4 that she’s had for at least a decade. Her car before that was a white Toyota Paseo, and before that – when I met her – a red 1969 VW Beetle. The Rav4 is a classic. Glenn, our man at Eastside Auto, says with a little TLC these Rav4s are great cars that can run forever. Or up to 200,000 miles anyway and hers is at 150,000. The repairs are going to ding her $3,000 which is a sticker shock, but would be only half a year of car payments, and she likes the car. Unfortunately, it will continue to deteriorate. In six months it will start jumping out of fifth gear into neutral on the freeway, she will read that the transmission repair is on the upside of four grand, so she will start shopping for a new car. Subarus will sound good to her and by the end of July she will be driving a new shiny blue Impreza.
But that is then and this is now. Today the main hassle is that they’re keeping the car in there at the shop for all week. So she grabbed a ride to work for two days with a colleague who lives in the neighborhood and I picked her up at the end of the day.
Tomorrow she will just drive my car. I don’t need it. In fact, I had thought it was going to go to Tacoma with Elena this spring and I would figure out how to get around carless. But then Elena said she neither wanted nor needed it – she walks the couple of blocks from her house to campus and she can always find somebody to give her a ride to more far-flung destinations. And if she requires a car, I can run it down to her in an hour.
Dinner: sloppy joes.
Day 213, Fri Jan 29: Did some yard work. The chain saw is balky even though I just got it tuned up. Makes me think I should get an electric one. That would be robust enough for anything I’m cutting and I already have long extension cords because I have an electric lawn mower (my hand-mower, not the riding lawn tractor). Electric is less noise, less pollution and you push a button to start, no yanking and yanking on a pull-starter rope. (In fact, in the next year or so I get a Ryobi lithium-battery chainsaw. It gets pretty good torque. It’s more than a trimmer but less than an actual chainsaw. It can take down anything up to about maybe twice what you could put your hands around. Which is perfect for me because anything bigger than that, I don’t want to mess with it anyway.)
Dinner is assembled out of a treasure hunt through the fridge: chicken-hash-veggie-egg-scramble, refried mashed potato cakes, Texas toast.
Day 214, Sat Jan 30: I can walk a half-mile or so to the next neighborhood below us and then get on the trail for the Whispering Heights greenbelt, which will take me all the way down to Eastgate Elementary. All the way I am in a strip of nature, not in the city. Five-and-a-half miles round trip. For much of the way the trail is immediately adjacent to a stream without even a bank just a flat approach – you could step in and get your shoes wet and then step right back out, no problem. In the wetter months, like now, it has a satisfying burbling sound, and in some places there are three-foot-high waterfalls cascading over the rocks.
I looked online but at first could not find any name for this stream, though I think that it eventually feeds into Vasa Creek, which then runs to Lake Sammamish and has Kokanee salmon during their run. Then I stumbled into it. I was looking at my neighborhood on Google Maps – for a different reason – and all of a sudden when I drilled in to a pretty close focus there it was : Squibbs Creek! It runs all the way to Lake Sammamish, pouring into the lake right there next to Vasa Park. And there is no mention anywhere of Vasa Creek. (Makes me wonder if Squibbs was actually a pioneer or is the name of the person who works for Google Maps and labeled this part of it to memorialize themselves.)
Day 215, Sun Jan 31: A lot of people retire so they can get to the job they really want to do, something entrepreneurial or meaningful. Some people, if they feel like they’re still not too old to embrace something, want to embrace who they really are. It’s often recommended that a person do volunteer work as a way to keep busy with meaningful activity. While I now have time to get involved if I wanted to, I’ve gone in the opposite direction.
I’m no longer on any boards of directors of any organizations. I deliberately let them all sunset before I retired. For years I had always been on the school PTA, Bellevue East Lacrosse, our cabin co-op board, the neighborhood association and others. Lots of times I did my turn as president.
For one thing, I enjoyed it. For another, I know that these grassroots groups depend on people rolling up their sleeves and getting involved. It wasn’t always easy and sometimes not even fun, but overall it was fulfilling. I felt like I was doing civic good, in the service of some group I cared about. Plus, the other board members I served with were almost always high-quality well-meaning people who had a commitment to their community. Now, they are doing a great job without me. Enid, on the other hand, is still in the thick of it. She is president of our Hood Canal cabin community Co-op and she is on the board of her state art teachers’ association.