Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement
Day 154, Tue Dec 1: Talked with Elena from Madagascar for an hour. We use the Facebook Messenger phone app and from time to time it’s kind of wonky, with drop-outs and delays. Sometimes it’s easier to just do the texting version of Messenger. The wi-fi where she is staying in Tana is pretty dependable, but not perfectly reliable. She said that for this conversation she was in the lobby just outside the hotel restaurant (Indian food), so it was pretty good. The connection only dropped out once and we had to redial. It was 11 in the morning here, so 10 at night there; we talked until she said they were turning out the lights in the restaurant.
She’s excited about her research paper on possibilities for better cook stoves in underdeveloped countries. Middle class people there have rudimentary plumbing and electricity in their homes, but they cook out in a courtyard on a smoky wood or charcoal stove. She’s fired up about this being her final week or so in Madagascar. She’s excited about coming home. So am I.
For supper I make turkey chili with cornbread and a big salad.
Day 155, Wed Dec 2: I walked five miles at Downtown Park (they have the Ice Rink set up at the duck pond but it wasn’t open yet before noon) and then bought some waterproofing spray for jackets at North Face and a couple of reflective lights and bracelets for stocking stuffers (for Enid to wear when she’s running in the dark mornings) at Title Nine.
Next I stopped at Green Theory, which I’ve been meaning to do for months. Like most everybody, I enjoyed smoking weed (what the old folks call pot or grass) when I was a college student and for a little while after when I played in bands and recreational drugs would be around. I enthusiastically used a few of the lighter mind-alterations but was never into losing control or drastically modifying my reality (no LSD), much less totally wrecking my life (no heroin). And then I had that long 30-40 year period when it just wasn’t accessible to me. It was illegal, for one, and I wasn’t interested in being arrested. I didn’t know any drug dealers and didn’t want to.
But once it legalized here in Washington, I was ready to jump back in. I did a little research and watched some helpful “The Stoner Mom” how-to videos on You Tube. It just took me until now to get around to it.
Green Theory, on Main Street next to The Pet Stops Here, was busy – most of the multigenerational customers look like downtown workers on their day off or their lunch break. The staff is all wearing polo shirts with the Green Theory logo, following the Best Buy fashion business plan. Joel, the clerk who helped me out was able to lend a hand. I told him I didn’t want anything complicated; I don’t want to mess around with vapes or tinctures or edibles or face-mask bongs. I want the cheapest thing they’ve got. He did ask me a few questions I couldn’t answer: “Are you looking for something a little more indica or more sativa?” He calls it “bud,” not weed or grass or pot or any of the other hundred names. Having this conversation is borderline akin to talking with a wine snob. (As I understood it, indica is a more mellow high, by the way, and sativa is more upbeat.) But he definitely recognizes that I am an old-timer who is trying it out to see if I want to get back into the stoner life. I am sure I’m not the first he’s dealt with, probably not the first today or even that hour.
He sells me a $10 one-gram yellow and red packet of a strain called Sin Valley OG Kush from a company called Jackpot Seaweed. A Zip-Loc bag the size of a Tic-Tac container. The packet says “Lucky You!” on it, and “indica” and “Introspective”. The small print includes a Potency Analysis with a lot of THC percentages and some other stuff like adults-only and health warnings. I need a pipe and he tells me to pick out one from a basket of little $10 glass pipes near the cash register. I ask if one is better than another and he says, “a longer one so you don’t burn your nose.” I buy a black one.
Now I’m trying to figure out my strategy for smoking it; I don’t want to stink up the house, And I don’t want to get too high. I don’t want to take my few puffs when I have anything to do, in case Jackpot Seaweed’s idea of “introspective” is more like my idea of “comatose.”
So many decisions to make. This is the kind of retirement situation that can come up that none of the other retirement books tells you about.
Dinner: pulled chicken.
Day 156, Thu Dec 3: Five months ago when I first retired and people seemed worried about what I would do to keep busy, some of them suggested I should get back in a band. Nah, bruh, I ain’t fallin’ for that again.
Music is super-central to my life, as it is for most everybody in my generation (and many other generations). There’s a saying that could apply to old-timers reliving their youth through their playlist: “Many men are made melancholy by music, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth.”
In addition to being a good listener, I – again, like just about everybody (of the guy gender, anyway) – played in bands. I don’t do that anymore. The last time I was onstage with a band was in 2000 when I was back home to be inducted into the Nebraska Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I got my plaque and did three tunes fronting a terrific all-star band that included Mike “Pinky” Semrad and Jim Casey, the Nashville songwriter. I did “The Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, “Gloria” by Them (and a little Patty Smith inflection thrown in), and closed with “Hello Josephine” by Fats Domino. As I waved to the huge and appreciative crowd and exited the stage with the band still cooking, Casey was playing a stinging solo with his guitar up behind his head.
While I’ve got guitars and a keyboard set up down in our basement, I don’t ever even sit down and play for fun. I just got out of the habit. Elena likes to play so sometimes I will sing along with her, or we will play together on “Hey Good Lookin” or “Twist and Shout” or she’ll ask me about a chord progression, or how to make an A into an A7, and I’ll demonstrate. Who’s to say I won’t pick it up again?
I have lots of friends who played in bands when they were younger and are still at it. Some either never stopped, or they picked it up again once they had more freedom – something between a hobby, an avocation and an addiction.
I know a couple of really good bass players – Dave in Lincoln and Mark in Seattle – who are really active on their local scene. The guy in Lincoln ranges from roots to country to bluegrass; in Seattle it’s wider ranging from blues to surf ‘n’ roll to something called Sonic Shiva. They both seem to keep real busy (based on their Facebook posts about various gigs) while retaining their dignity. I also keep up with the nonpareil Steve Hanson, who similarly makes several bands sound great: the Lightning Bugs, the Toasted Ponies, the Fabtones, for three. He runs a couple of successful bluegrass camps during the summer, too.
They are not trying to hold onto their youth (as far as I can tell), they are just into a fun phase. They did music their whole lives, they’re doing more of it now. For old guys, it’s a thin line between keeping busy and being cool and, on the other hand, looking ridiculous. It is possible, as these players show, to do the latter.
Dinner: cheese quesadillas.
Day 157, Fri Dec 4: It seems almost certain that I will save money this year (and into perpetuity) on my wardrobe budget. It’s hard for me to imagine that I will spend any money at all for new clothes, except maybe for a new pair of running shoes to use for walking, and possibly new walking socks if mine get holey. But otherwise, I don’t see it. Fashion? I ain’t got time for that shit.
First, I’ve been strictly shorts, runners, T-shirts and then when the weather gets chilly layering on sweatshirts. That’s my signature look. The few times that I will need to “dress up” I am pretty well set with the same shirt & tie outfits I’ve been wearing to work, or a neatly-pressed pair of khakis and a nice dress shirt. I’ve got enough undershirts – V-neck white T-shirts – to last me for the foreseeable next several reincarnations. Black socks & blue socks & brown socks & gray socks: got it covered.
I don’t need to budget for the dry cleaners because I can iron all the shirts & pants myself. I had to learn how to iron my shirts when I was in high school; my mom was like, if you want a neatly-pressed shirt you know where the iron is. Later, I enjoyed ironing shirts while watching Monday Night Football; it was Zen-like for me. (As a barely-related side comment, I used to also get some of my best writing done with a football game playing in the background as white noise, the sounds of the crowd and the inane drone of the announcers providing a fertile environment for my creativity.) Eventually I started using the dry cleaners. Now my ironing skills may get rusty since, projecting forward a year, I’m thinking I may only need dressier clothes a couple of times. I’ve got plenty of T-shirts and jeans, so no need for a shopping spree, though I may browse Old Navy and Target for a new pair of shorts when they are on sale.
On the other hand, one of the many (no, make that many-many) tips I have picked up while researching how to put yourself out to pasture the best way, is to make a real effort to be a debonair older gent. You don’t want everything to just go to hell on the style front. It’s good to have a conscious strategy to be a Dapper Don, or you could end up walking the neighborhood in a bathrobe and slippers. I’m already guilty of wearing T-shirts until they have holes and keeping some items in rotation that are definitely not in style, not even in an ironic retro way. So it would be way too easy to wind up as one of the geezers shuffling past in a 20-year-old outfit. I’m giving myself a year and then I will review my wardrobe, with an objective eye.
For dinner, game hens, roast veggies, steamed green beans, salad.
Day 158, Sat Dec 5: Of course, this is different for everybody but I am so glad to be in this new retired life. Every day seems to be a good day. As the Ry Cooder song says, “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”
Again, it’s not like I hated my jobs or anything like that. They were pretty good jobs. They weren’t soul-sucking but neither were they life-enhancing. I made money and had good colleagues, but they really gave me nothing of importance. And yet, during my working life, almost all the stresses in my life came from work: some little project gone wrong, some problem with somebody who reported to me failing to do the best they could, some jerky boss being a jerk. So going off the payroll is better. Now I still have life-problems to solve, but I have almost no stressors in my life unless I concoct them.
Day 159, Sun Dec 6: Took a walk from home up to Summit (the next adjacent neighborhood, and at an even higher elevation than us, so climbing up above a thousand feet), then down and across 49th towards Somerset (a nearby neighborhood lower than us), and then looped back home. I covered 6.8 miles, 13,364 steps, 39 floors on my I-phone health tracker. It’s cold enough to wear a jacket (shorts on the bottom) and to pull on a beanie and gloves in the shady parts.
Supper was healthy sloppy joe over rice.
Day 160, Mon Dec 7: I have more retirement-related paperwork to fill out, which I gladly do. This one is from Premera, our vision coverage, for which Enid is now the subscriber and I am some other kind of participant. A dependent, I guess. They needed me to fill out a paper and send a copy of my Medicare card.
I just sorted out an aggravating situation over the past few weeks involving confusion between Factoria Eyecare and Premera. I don’t think this was Premera’s fault, my beef is with Factoria Eyecare. The short version is that I was trusting. Then Factoria Eyecare misled me and I ended up paying $150 instead of a $5 co-pay that they originally told me would be the cost. So I wasn’t happy about that. But I’m able to compartmentalize and not hold a grudge. Dividing the world into good guys and bad guys is a caricature of reality; it’s one of the things I hate about police attitudes and I try to avoid it myself. Although I’m now looking for a new eyecare provider.
The rest of the day was all chores and errands, not atypical though maybe I accomplished a few more things than usual. Took the trash and recycling up to the bins and pulled the bins out to the road for pickup day tomorrow; took the bag of kitchen compost down to the compost bin by the garden; emptied a load of clean dishes and reloaded and ran the load and then emptied that second load; brought down the box of Xmas music CDs from the studio (this gave me great pleasure and I immediately played one marked “New Orleans Christmas”); folded a pile of laundry and put my share of it away; sorted the mail pile; wrapped gifts that I retrieved from my secret hiding place on my bedroom closet shelf and moved them to the living room; bought a sweater online for a Christmas gift for Enid; took care of my personal grooming: shower, shave and self mani-pedi; picked up all the detritus on the floor on my side of the bed; checked Facebook and emails; refilled my Sumatriptin prescription for cluster headaches from Group Health (I’m not having headache episodes right now, this is preemptive so that I can have a stash on hand for future emergencies); stripped the rest of the turkey off of the turkey bones and threw them in a pot to make stock; retrieved two game hens from the garage freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw; paid the bills for the week; screwed in four screws on the TV room sun shades that the handyman never finished screwing tight when he installed them; read the paper; relit the fireplace pilot light which had gone out (it wasn’t intuitive so I had to look up the How-to on You Tube); wrote this journal entry.
Turkey noodle soup for dinner.
Day 161, Tue Dec 8: It has been pouring rain for four days and the local news is full of floods and mudslides blocking highways in the mountains. Here at our place, it rained like crazy, the wind blew like nuts and that was that. Instead of walking, I’ve been doing my indoor workout: body-weight and a few hand barbells.
For dinner, I make burgers, potato salad and salad.
Day 162, Wed Dec 9: Enid has had a bad cold and stays home sick from work, so we sneak out and do a little shopping for stocking stuffers. I have finished up most of my Xmas shopping but have held off on a few things so that Elena and I can go on a shopping spree for her mom, to provide Elena with some of the consumerist fun.
Lentil soup for supper.
Day 163, Thu Dec 10: So much of life is just keeping up, isn’t it? Everyday chores, personal upkeep and home maintenance. All of this is true when you are working, too, but when you’re retired it doesn’t go away. “Shadow Work” is a book about the rise of self-service life and how we now do a lot of the things that workers used to do for us: pump our own gas, check out our own groceries, do our own taxes. Also thrown in there is the creeping blurring of the line between work and home – the answering emails at midnight thing. And then kind of mixed into his thesis is also the notion that we have less leisure time.
More germane to my current situation, there’s a chapter on housework and how most of this burden (assuming it is a burden) falls on women, even if both partners are working: cooking, cleaning, shopping, and paying the bills. The undocumented work we all do that eats up our day/week/month/year/decade/life. How many hours have we spent doing the laundry? Writing checks to the utility company? Vacuuming the hall rug? And yet, it needs to be done. Of course this is all the same shadow work everybody has to do while they’re still working before they retire. Somehow much of it got done in our household before I retired. I just didn’t write it down in a daily journal.
Of course, we could delegate some of it – hire the Merry Maids to come in and deal with it. We used to do that, too. Now we do the house cleaning ourselves. I don’t mind and it definitely fits with my Scroogelike tendencies. It’s a hard life for sure.
Day 164, Fri Dec 11: It’s always a good thing when your daughter makes it home safely from Madagascar (Mada, she calls it after four months there) via Nairobi and Amsterdam. It warms my old cockles, whatever those are. She’s a grown woman, adventurous and risk-taking. Seems like yesterday that I worried about letting her walk Giles around the block by herself for the first time.
Day 165, Sat Dec 12: Went out in a pouring rain and bought a Christmas tree at the Buchanan Brothers lot, where we always go. A six-foot Noble Fir, as tradition dictates. The tree will sit undecorated in our living room for several days until we bring down all the boxes of cheer from the Christmas Hallway up in the studio. Then, with seasonal music on the box, we will deck it out with all of the decorations.
We never have a theme except for piling on every ornament we own: multi-colored lights, shiny balls, icicles, star on top, birds, wooden soldiers, wooden airplanes, gold Twelve Days of Christmas, musical instruments, The Pickle. We also hang the stockings, we string up the half-dozen crocheted snowflakes that came to us long ago from my mom, we line up all the Xmas-themed mugs on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, we array all the books (a whole Santa Paws series, and more) around the living room. We drink hot chocolate.
Day 166, Sun Dec 13: Today is the neighborhood holiday party, genially hosted by Carol and Larry. It’s pretty well attended, with representation from probably half or more of our 40-some homes in the community. I eat turkey sliders and a bunch of other goodies, drink a glass of champagne and chat with my neighbors, mostly about my post-work life but also about best books we have read this year. I go off for a couple of minutes about my 2016 #1: “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” I work the room a little. I sit for a while in a chair in the end of the living room where all the parents with the little kids are stuck. I get a fist-bump from Lucas – on his mom’s direction — who must be a year old because he’s up on two legs and motorvating around, but it doesn’t look like he’s exactly talking yet.
Day 167, Mon Dec 14: Elena and I went downtown to do some shopping and to see “The Martian” (really good, I got teary-eyed with emotion about Matt Damon‘s predicament and the valor of both he and all the people working to rescue him (Come On! Get our American off that damn planet!). I told you earlier I was sentimental. After the movie we met Enid for dinner at Cactus (why was it so packed on a Monday at supper time?) and finished eating in time to walk outside for Snowflake Lane.
This is where every night in the Christmas season they close off the street right there on that block in front of Cactus and Moksha for a half-hour, pedestrians and shoppers gather around on the sidewalks, Christmas carols boom out over the sound system, there’s a drum corps and about a hundred cute young women as candy cane dancers and a bunch of youths dressed as various Snow Queens, elves, and Nutcracker-style soldiers. And they put on a show. At the end it “snows” from the tops of the buildings down onto the crowd below. It’s packed with every demographic: families with little kids, teens on date night, old people who are out shopping or eating dinner after seeing “The Martian”. It is a family-friendly, feel-good event and it was a blast. Plus, we had a picture taken with Rudolph.
Day 168, Tue Dec 15: My neighbor four doors down, Matt, called, asking for unskilled-labor help loading a cabinet onto his pickup. As Elena says, he knows who he can call when he’s looking for people who will be home and available in the middle of a Tuesday. Elena and I walked over, met Matt (retired from a career as an urban planner) and another neighbor, Bo (retired from a career as an attorney), and did the job. It was pretty easy with the four of us; it wasn’t heavy but was bulky and had to be handled carefully to avoid dings.
It was a beautiful entertainment cabinet Matt had made as a present for his daughter, and part of the gift was that he would also deliver and install it. He’s a master woodworker. This kind of woodworking was something he did and loved as a young man, and then he veered into a 40-year career in urban planning that culminated as the City of Bellevue’s Director of Development. He’s been retired for about a year or two longer than me. What I know of his retirement is that it’s all about woodworking. Plus golf. Plus walking his dog, Mocha. Plus driving over to his cabin in the Methow Valley and doing what he does there.
Bo is a retired attorney who lives right next door to me – though I barely see his actual house since the homes are tucked into wooded acre lots. What I know about his activities is that until he had to have knee replacements he was doing a lot of bike vacations in places like Croatia. I’m pretty sure the knee thing has slowed him down, at least temporarily. It does give me the opportunity to get a good laugh out of him when he shows me the surgery marks on his knees and I tell him, “Chicks dig scars.”
Day 169, Wed Dec 16: Dear Diary, trying cannabis marijuana today. When does it kick in?
Seriously, I finally loaded up the pipe with bud (see, I’ve got the lingo down) and fired up for a few puffs. I’m monitoring my reaction, like I’m both scientist and subject in one of those studies of marijuana from the ‘50s. Anyway, I stepped outside since I didn’t want to stink up the house. I thought maybe I would cough and hack but, no, it was smooth. I did three lit matches worth, or three lungfuls, or three hits, or three of something. I realize that wooden kitchen matches won’t cut it and I need to buy a Bic lighter.
The amount I smoked felt about right and it used up the crumb of weed I put in the pipe. It seems pretty subtle, not exactly mind-altering. The mysteries of the universe don’t open up. But I guess it is working. It’s arabica, an “introspective” blend, remember? I’m feeling mellow, for sure, as I type this, but then I’m mostly feeling mellow these days. As I told somebody at the community holiday party the other day, holding my thumb and forefinger a sixteenth-inch apart, my stress level is about like that. So I don’t need to smooth out anything harsh. But so far, very good on my first toke (do you suppose that’s still part of the jargon?) in 30-some years. Feeling pleasant, definitely. So it seems like that is pretty much the definition of a buzz.
I meant the comment about “toke” as very light humor, something an old-timer would say. But days later, reading this over, I checked it on Urban Dictionary. It looks like “toke” still means what I thought, but it is hard to tell from the examples whether it is still in use, or whether it is quaint. One example that’s listed is the lyric from the Steve Miller Band song “The Joker.” Another describes “to smoke some mary-jane” and I am not sure if that is ironic or what. A third example, though, and the one I am believing most in, defines: “to smoke some bud”.
As it turns out for me, after this first pipeful of weed I won’t smoke any more for several weeks. I was 30 years out of the habit and I kind of forgot about it. And, no, not because I got so high on those puffs that my memory left for a month-and-a-half.
For dinner I make vegetable soup, naan and salad.
Day 170, Thu Dec 17: Rainy day. When Elena is home she needs a car more than me. We made her do her first two years of college without a car, but now I don’t need it. So she has the Honda in Tacoma to visit some of her pals who are finishing up finals. Which makes me a pedestrian. Which, today, makes me a stay-at-home. I do several loads of laundry – the regular weekly wash, plus Elena’s pile that came home with her from Madagascar.
For breakfast I have peanut-butter toast and coffee. For lunch I eat a bowl of vegetable soup that is left over from last night. I watch the Huskers volleyball team beat Kansas 3-1 in the Final Four semifinals; they play Texas for the title on Saturday.
For dinner today I make seared rosemary-lemon chicken breasts on rice with salad.
Day 171, Fri Dec 18: A USPS package has arrived at our front door signaling that all is right with the world and reconfirming that our nation is great once again. It is my order of two dozen kolaches from Frank’s Smokehouse in Wilber, Nebraska, Czech Capital of Nebraska.
I spent a few years futilely trying to find a local Seattle outlet for the flagship pastry of the Czech diaspora (what we called “Bohemian” in Schuyler when I was growing up as an ethnic minority in a Czech-majority town). The one Czech café in Seattle is a little too artisanal. Just to point out one issue, they did not serve duck & dumplings, which is pretty much the definition of Bohemian cuisine. So I’m not sure what they were thinking. I once drove a half-hour to a bakery & deli called Little Prague in West Seattle but came away with something – it was tasty, I cannot dispute — that was called a kolache, but did not look or eat like a kolache.
About once a year my Facebook friends who grew up in Schuyler will have a discussion about kolaches and where to get them. Some will say – and this is true – that you can never get a kolache as good as the Czech grandmas used to make. Some will say that’s OK, they still prefer to home-make their own (as one friend says, “the key ingredient in the recipe is our intense desire for them”). What is understood but left unsaid is that, to all of us who are from there, kolaches represent our sense of place and bind us together with all of our tribal lore. It’s a lot of responsibility for a dab of dough with a jelly filling to carry, but the kolache is up to it. For us, yes, it’s about the pleasure and flood of nostalgia involved in eating the ethnic pastry from our youth, but it is also about all sorts of other things – values, world-view, whatever you want to call it – things that we don’t have to explain to one another and things that are entirely inexplicable to somebody who is not from there. It’s a Schuyler thing; you wouldn’t understand.
Frank’s, on the other hand, is reliable. They have a Facebook page but no way to order online. You call up and talk to whoever answers the phone. Possibly Frank. My standard annual order is two dozen; one dozen poppyseed, one dozen miscellaneous (apricot, lemon, cherry and something purple). They are packaged each in its own mini sandwich bag. The best part of this whole process – and every part makes me feel good; the ordering, the getting, the eating – is that you don’t pay when you order. The first time I placed an order, we had seemed to reach the end of the phone conversation and he hadn’t said anything about payment, so I asked. They just put a slip in the box and you send them a check when you get it. This Frank’s Way is so different from just about every other business transaction I was involved with in my working life — people try to maneuver and negotiate every little inch of space — that I was walking on charmed air for a few days after.
If you want to you can put some of the extra kolaches in the freezer for later. That never happens at our house. “Extra kolaches” is an oxymoron.
Day 172, Sat Dec 19: I wake up at 8:30 and walk upstairs to find Enid and Elena on the couch, binge-watching “Top Chef” episodes on On Demand and eating warmed up chow mein for breakfast. Last night they brought home Chinese from our go-to takeout, Yee’s Wok. We start talking about our plans for the day and it’s fun-filled: run and workout, library and post office, Trader Joe’s, decorate the tree, clean up the kitchen, watch Cornhusker women’s volleyball later in the afternoon.
Day 173, Sun Dec 20: After the Seahawks beat Cleveland to earn another playoff berth, we walked up to the playfield at 4:30 for the neighborhood Solstice. We’re bundled up. It was cold but dry and though there is cloud covering it was still fairly twilightish, though it will soon be dark. Solstice-practicing neighbors (this year, a couple dozen participants) gather around a blaze in the fire pit and drink hot chocolate or hot apple cider or hot apple cider spiked with apple jack. Some years it rains and some years we’ve had snow. Hound of the Baskervilles-style clouds swept across the face of the moon.
When it got dark enough the organizer, Richard, my neighbor across the street and one house up, stood on a bench and explained about Solstice and the return of the sun. It’s dark and mystical and fun. As per tradition, some of the youngest ambulatory kids went out to the middle of the playfield, where a smallish 25-foot cut-down fir had been erected, and plugged in the white lights that will stay on until late January. As she does every year, Enid has decorated a yule log with holly, ivy and snowberries; as we each think of something we want to let go from the past year and something we anticipate for the coming year Elena tosses the log onto the fire, where it crackles and pops and sends our wishes up as sparks.
Then we all got lit candles in various wind-proofing containers (like paper cups) and bells handed out from a box by Charlie, the architect, and we all paraded out to encircle the lit tree, ringing our little bells. Alison (she writes the Pastry Queen cookbooks) read a stanza of a poem by Tennyson. We walked back to the fire and ate S’morehenge, which is constructed every year by Janet and Tom. All in all, a very nice neighborhood pagan ceremony.
Day 174, Mon Dec 21: Some people get really mad during the holiday season. All the goodwill floating around in the air seems to stir up exactly the opposite feeling in them. Some are pissed because it’s too Christianish and they feel like they have to fight against the oppressive tyranny of religion. Or, on the other side, they’re persuaded that there is a War On Christmas that they need to oppose. Loudly. Or everything about it just makes them depressed and they are convinced that happy people are deliberately rubbing their faces in it to make them sad.
I am not one of those people. I like the holiday season and I like to see the good side. I’m anti-religious (I do believe that there is an oppressive tyranny of religion, but the way it plays out in the Christmas season is harmless compared to some of the other inhuman shit that’s done in the name of the Lord). I don’t believe that the Baby Jesus was immaculately conceived, born in a manger, did a bunch of miracles and later died for my sins. Though anything’s possible, I suppose. Maybe it’s because I was raised a Catholic and Rome’s representative in Schuyler, Nebraska – Father Clement Nacke (an oddball, but harmless, to my knowledge) – fell down on the job. I always kind of liked the mysticism of mass during the holidays: the ritual, the incense, the choir, the priest’s robes, the candles, the Latin incantations; it was a real sensory overload of theater that can’t be denied. But the catechism itself never stuck with me no matter how many times I was hit with a ruler by the nuns from Saint Bonaventure who came to teach class in Schuyler on Saturday mornings. Surprising, I know. I’m more likely to guide my life by Dixie Chicks’ lyrics than Catholic dogma.
But I still like the happy spirits and pomp and ceremony around Christmas. I like songs like “O Holy Night” even if I’m skeptical about the dear savior’s birth. I like the season’s overarching spirit of generosity and goodwill and, for me, it’s strong enough that it is not diminished by some of the seasonal negatives. I honestly don’t get why the Christians are so fired up about “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” that they feel the need to shout “Merry Christmas!” in people’s face like it means “Take that, infidel!” I say “Happy Holidays” just to cover all bases, but I’m glad to have either or both said to me.
Most likely, my warm feelings are partly because I’m old and can recall many family Christmases, both as a kid and as a young adult at my Mom & Dad’s, and then since I’ve been an adult on my own. Also, I’m sentimental. It is not that uncommon for me to get tears in my eyes at “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “White Christmas” or just thinking how it’s the time of year to be with the ones you love. Actually, I can get teary-eyed at a lot of things at this time of year (C’mon, let the little Clydesdale pull the beer wagon! Dammit!). It’s not uncommon to have flashes of introspection and appreciation for the things that really matter in life.
Besides the religious wars over the holiday season, there is the beef about consumerism versus The Real Meaning of Christmas. I’m mildly anti-consumerist; you’ve already heard many times in this journal about my enthusiasm for re-using and recycling. So, yes, the holiday sales should not start right after Halloween. But I still like giving and getting presents. And then, just the whole thing of family traditions is positive.
At our house we put up the outside lights and get out the Xmas music the day after Thanksgiving. We drive to Buchanan Brothers and buy a tree when we get around to it and decorate it sometime after that. On Christmas Eve we have a nice dinner with the three of us – me, Enid and Elena – and then open our presents. There is, of course, very little that I want or need in the way of presents, so it is always wonderful to see what my family gives me. Then on Christmas Day we have Enid’s mom and brother over for lunch and we open a few more gifts. And, boom, straight into New Year.
Day 175, Tue Dec 22: Got up at 8:45 and Elena was talking on the phone to her friend Meredith who is in Portland headed for San Francisco. Enid came back from either the gym or from running. She mixed waffle batter and we had waffles (with our only syrup, Golden Griddle; I do not even want to get into the non-natural chemical contents of this irresistible delight but it does not fit our healthy, active lifestyle; Golden Griddle just tastes addictively fabulous ).
The car insurance notice came so I showed Elena how much insurance costs. She’s been talking about buying a junker to get around and we’ve been talking about the real ongoing costs of a car. I’m trying to sticker-shock her out of it, without being totally obvious about my motives. As far as I’m concerned she can use my car all the time. I genuinely don’t need it, I can either get around by walking or by figuring out public transportation or Uber. And I keep meaning to look up the various car services for seniors.
Cars aside, Elena’s laptop has been wonky so we drove it down to A-Plus Computer Tech, located in a cool little strip of storefronts that also includes Lawrence The Florist and drop it off for them to fix. It’s been giving intermittent blue-screen error messages, for several months it turns out, and the notion that she’s just gone along with it for that long – shutting it down and rebooting when it happens — visibly alarms the tech who’s helping her when she describes her problem.
We stopped at Mercer Slough and walked for an hour-plus, through the forest part, out to the blueberry farm, past the decaying old rhododendron nursery building that apparently once sat high and dry but is now up to its knees in wetlands water.
Enid and Elena are heading into Seattle to see the Impressionists show at the Seattle Art Museum and then to get dinner. They’ll be eating someplace really good – I’m not sure where, but I overheard them comparing different eateries’ websites the other night. I, on the other hand, will be on leftovers or whatever else I can scrounge out of the fridge. Actually, on considering it for a minute, a pretty good deal for everybody.
Day 176, Wed Dec 23: We bought two boxes of Christmas cards and send them – yes, actual Christmas cards. I was indifferent to this project, but Elena was insistent. Obviously, nobody sends cards any more, sometimes making do with an email Family Letter and sometimes with nothing at all. Last year we sent nothing at all. On the receiving end, we’ve dwindled down to a handful of cards. But we think it’s a nice, old-fashioned sentimental touch, so out go the cards. We get a few back from folks who clearly were only responding in kind to the cards they received.
In February, in lieu of a holiday card we will also receive a Valentine’s card – urging love – from Dick and Rhonda in Omaha. I’ve known Dick since the old journalism days in Nebraska; he recently got involuntarily retired from a paper there. Kind of brutal; he’s my age so he’s old enough to retire but I gather that he wanted to keep on working. It wasn’t his choice. She has a business putting together tours to foreign lands. I’ve got faith that he will adapt.
Day 177, Thu Dec 24: We open our presents, starting with opening one apiece as soon as we are up in the morning. In the afternoon we watched some bad monster movies on the Sci-Fi Channel. For dinner we always set our most formal table (nice tablecloth, candles, the gold-rimmed china, the heirloom silverware). While dinner was cooking we opened a bunch more gifts, then took a halftime break to eat. And after, we opened the rest of the gifts. I got books, magazines, two long-sleeve T-shirts (blue and green), a bottle of white wine, a Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson CD, pajama pants.
Christmas Eve dinner was game hens and all the fixins. Cheesecake for dessert.
Day 178, Fri Dec 25: Our Christmas Day tradition is to have breakfast and open the stocking gifts that Santa brought us overnight. Usually, this is snacks, toiletries and office supplies. We always open and remark: “Ooh, scotch tape.” Then around 11 Enid’s Mom and brother come over bearing another small round of gifts (for me, really nice LL Bean hiking socks and tasty salty snacks). Lunch is salad and little quiches, tomato soup with parmesan wafers and pasta. Cheesecake for dessert.
Day 179, Sat Dec 26: Right away in the morning we met our friends Jim and Kathy at the Redtown trailhead to take a hike on Cougar Mountain. The Cougar Mountain Park, just 15 minutes from our place, is vast, covering more than 3,000 acres with 38 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of equestrian paths. I’m pretty sure you can start at our side of Cougar Mountain, hike across, and then connect up with Squak Mountain or Tiger Mountain on the other side and keep going. I know that somewhere out there you can get on the John Wayne Trail paralleling I-90 and basically walk over the Cascades and keep going all the way to Spokane. I may try it sometime.
Today we had a good social hike, a good workout, featuring lots of streams, a pretty substantial cascade from the little waterfall, and convivial conversation. Back home, we watched the Cornhuskers beat favored UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl. There had been many jokes from Husker nation about the Foster Farms Bowl (would we have to sit on bales of hay?). The Cornhuskers were 5-7 in the regular season this year, which is not a recipe for happy Cornhusker fans. But they really weren’t that bad; they lost four games on the last play of the game. So, while they had many flaws, it was not entirely surprising that they won this game. Cornhusker victories, as with home-delivery of kolaches, is just another sign that we live in a great country on the Number One Planet.
Day 180, Sun Dec 27: Snowing! It comes down in a really pretty dusting for an hour or so in the morning before the day warms up. We use the snow as an excuse to hang around the house all day doing nothing much. Later in the evening I sat up with Elena and watched “Nine to Five.” We had our choice of “Nine to Five” or “The Shining”. Smart old movies can be a lot of fun.
Day 181, Mon Dec 28: An occasional downside of being retired is that you are old. I don’t mean to go all morbid on you, but when you’re old, people die. I hope I don’t sound callous, but I can’t get entirely bent out of shape about this, even when it is someone close to me. I grieve, but I am not the kind of person to remember the dearly departed every day or to post on Facebook on the anniversary of their death.
My mom and dad and my two oldest sisters, Ann and Mary, have passed and I don’t have the first clue about the dates. I know their birthdays but not the days they died. And at the risk of sounding like a really cold-hearted jerk (I’m not, honest) or being accused of being in perpetual denial and suppressing my real feelings (OK, partly true) I cried and grieved. And then moved on. Partly, this is sort of the way I was brought up. When someone died my mom always gave the message that it’s OK to grieve, but what we really want to do is be happy and celebrate that person’s life. Healthy approach, in my view. And then – spoiler alert – people are born, they live, and they die. If it’s a little kid or the death is unexpected, of course that is more impactful. And news of any death is sobering. But at this stage of our lives, it’s pretty normal news. And while I do the normal amount of contemplating my own mortality – a lot more as the end nears — I don’t get all that introspective or self-obsessive about it. I’ll leave that to Cheryl Strayed.
I am thinking about death today because I heard news of Gene Harmon’s passing. I was not close friends with him but we were team mates on Schuyler’s uber-successful high school basketball teams. He was the Nebraska State Athlete of the Year when he was a senior. One year in track he had the state’s best performance in both the 120-yard high hurdles (this was pre-metric) and the shot put; he was the fastest sprinter and the strongest thrower! At 6’7” and 235 pounds he was unstoppable in basketball. He and I used to stay after practice and play one-on-one to work on our games. He’d wear a weight vest and ankle weights and I’d wear those goggles with the lower half painted opaque so you had to dribble by feel. While everybody else had gone to shower up, we’d play at one of the side baskets until Coach Muma would come out and kick us out and turn off the gym lights. Gene’s dad was a religious fundamentalist pastor so Gene and his sister weren’t allowed to do a lot of the normal high-school activities like go to dances. But he had a good sense of humor in a clean-cut-jock way. He went on to star at Creighton and then got drafted by the Celtics but a knee injury washed him out and he eventually worked as a pastor himself.
Once 10 years after we had won the State Championship – little town, big deal — they had the team back for a recognition event and a little charity scrimmage where we jogged up and down the court in a simulation of playing ball. Before the game, as they announced us, I was standing next to Gene in the line while the packed gym of local people loudly showed their appreciation for what we had meant to the town’s pride. He said, “Enjoy it. There’s not that many days anymore when we get a standing ovation.”
Day 182, Tue Dec 29: Earlier this fall my niece Steph in Omaha posted a photo of her daughter (a live wire who is, what, eight years old now? And what, my grand-niece?) from what is described as “this weekend’s tournament at Cathedral,” in her soccer gear with a medal around her neck, her index finger raised in “We’re No. 1”, and the assured smile of a champion. A few days later my sister Monica posts a picture from Santiago, Chile of my niece Liz on the field for her soccer team there, La U (Club Universidad de Chile), which plays in the first division of Chilean football. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my relatives whether or not they are playing a sport right now, but these pictures give me a happy feeling.
Day 183, Wed Dec 30: My ageism radar needs more fine-tuning, I need to be more easily offended.
Because I am old with lots of free time on my hands I checked out a blog called “This Chair Rocks”. It was about ageism and that sounded relevant. But the first post was about the New York Times’ pathetic social media presence (and by extension almost every institution’s pathetic social media presence). In the course of the essay, the writer referred to the Times’ problem as the “grandpa at the nightclub” syndrome.
I thought that was pretty funny, but the writer of “This Chair Rocks” didn’t. That person thought it was dismissive and hurtful. They went on to compare the term “old farts” to the N-word. I know that it is fashionable for all groups to feel like if their demographic is not victimized, then they are somehow missing out. I get it when young people feel aggrieved (the last college campus to hold a sit in to complain that they are being taught the dead-white-guy canon will really feel like a loser college campus). The acts of oppression being called out always have some element of legitimacy; it’s just that sometimes they are significant and sometimes they are slight.
I’m being unfair to “This Chair Rocks;” much of its manifesto against ageism is really legit and thought-provoking. Likewise a blog called “Yo, Is This Ageist?” (I think it might be the same person.) For me, comparing “old farts” to the N-word seemed overheated. The “This Chair Rocks” blogger was pretty worked up about this. I was not.
Day 184, Thu Dec 31: Just reiterating something obvious here. I expect that some readers are construing this book as a How To Guide, mining for tips to their own retirement. I’m trying to take that into account because I definitely want to encourage everybody to find their encore bliss. It’s not only that I enjoy talking about myself and believe that readers are just fascinated with me. That may be true, but it’s not the whole picture.
On the How-To front, to state the obvious, my specific examples won’t work for everybody. So, dear reader, connect the dots. Which, I imagine, you are doing anyway since you are not morons. I don’t mean to sound too much like an Idiot’s Guide, but here goes. I want to say it directly in case you were under the mistaken impression that this was the kind of self-help book that demands that you should only do as I do. It’s not. So when I touch on how I’m dealing with retirement challenges and opportunities do you best to see how they relate to your own life.
I personally have to devise a strategy to deal with intermittent bad cluster headaches. Maybe your affliction is aching knees. I basically liked most of my jobs while I was working – let’s put it this way: they were tolerable – and the way I handled my money for 40 years means that I’m modestly secure so I can push off collecting my social security until later. Perhaps you hated your jobs but you were clocking so much dough that you don’t even need a next-phase financial strategy, just a few tips from the areas we have something in common. Maybe you don’t want to sell off your extra stuff on Craigslist, but you do want to get a part-time job (“Welcome to Walmart”). If you’re intrigued when I’m rambling on about our vegetable garden but you don’t have enough interest or energy to go big, then you can adapt and simply set up a patio flower-pot garden instead. I cook dinner, you can cook dinner. Or if I’m taking walks but your idea of excellent exercise is playing golf, then go for it. Maybe the stuff you are interested in doing as a retiree are things I would never do in a million years: pay $165 to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden (twice), of all things. No, I can’t understand it or explain it any more than I can explain the big heads on Easter Island so I won’t try, but there you have it, Billy Joel fans. Maybe your ideal getaway involves logging a lot of hours on your basement flight simulator.
If something I write about my own activities gets you really fired up, then go for it (“Wow, I’ve got to start listening to more David Lindley”). If it sparks you to try your own version of it (“Wow, listening to all these David Lindley clips makes me want to get out my guitar and write songs again”) then nothing’s stopping you. If it just sets off some slightly-related thought for you (Wow, I’m not at all interested in listening to obscure, great eccentric guitar players but I’m really interested in obscure, genius actors from old failed, great TV shows; I wonder if You Tube’s got any clips of Dabney Colman in “Slap Maxwell” or Tim Reid in “Frank’s Place”) then now is the time to start. Got it? Get it!
Also, Happy New Year.