Retirement – Prologue

Just Quit, Already!

Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement

My Retirement Goals:
1. Simplify
2. Take Control
3. Get a Deeper Connection

Day Minus-4, Sat June 27, 2015: Is it too neurotic – or just healthily neurotic enough — to start keeping this retirement journal four days before I’m even really officially retired? Today I popped awake right on schedule at 6:15, as usual, as I’ve been doing for 40-some years, and then got all decadent and slept back in until 7:30. This is not even my real First Day of Retirement; I’m on the books at work through next Tuesday, June 30, then I’m lost history as of July 1. But starting today I will never step into the office again. As of five o’clock yesterday I now share something in common with President Obama and Beast Mode: He Gone.

I have already checked out, finished up the paperwork with HR, and will simply take two vacation days to close out the career. It feels extremely satisfying to finish my working years by getting paid but not actually working. The only better way to go out would have been to call in sick. It seems like this should be momentous, so all day long I’m checking myself for emotional movement. But, honestly, today feels like a regular Saturday. Except for the hourly thoughts that pop into my head reminding me that I’m actually now in the uncharted waters of a new life phase.

Drank a couple of cups of coffee and checked Facebook. Enid got up and we ate French toast I made from a leftover baguette.
Our community association has hired goats to deal with invasive ivy that is making incursions on the common property, and they are penned on the lower trail near our place, so we walked out there this morning to see the super-cute critters. Lots of neighbors to chat with since this is a major neighborhood tourist attraction for a few days. I can’t speak for other neighborhoods, but it’s not every day we have a herd of goats around. Hard to tell who’s happier, the little kids or the adults.

Then I changed into a long-sleeved Seahawks shirt and Enid and I teamed up to pick some wild blackberries on our back slope. This is the reward for slothful deferred yard maintenance; we ignored that part of the yard and lots of aggressive native blackberries took over. We got enough berries to fill a big Ziploc bag that we’ll stash in the freezer and pull out sometime to make smoothies. We were done picking by 10 am and sat on the Duck Pond (on the side of the house, built over what was once, yes, a duck pond, this is a pint-sized six-foot-square patio covered in pavers and surrounded by laurel) and read the papers. It is lightly overgrown so Enid got a pruning bee in her bonnet (don’t suppose the goats had anything to do with it) and did some quick lopper work around the edges.

It is predicted to be real hot today – for Bellevue, Washington that means high 80s, low 90s. I have a mini to-do list of errands to run and chores around the house. More like guidelines; if none of them get done, that will be OK, too. I burned a CD of guitar great Bill Frisell’s “Nashville” that I had checked out of the library, so now I can return it along with a bunch of books later today. Made refried rice scramble for lunch out of fridge leftovers, while listening to Louie Prima.

After we ate, we drove 15 minutes to Issaquah and took a nearly three-mile walk from one end of the appealing little historical downtown to the other. (I’ve been recording my daily walking distances since January – obsessive compulsive, I think they call it). While we were in the neighborhood we swung by The Grange to get a bale of straw for mulching the garden. This was a good idea for the garden but a bad one for Enid’s car; it’s a RAV4 so the bale went behind the back seat and loose straw went everywhere on the drive home. Two twenty-somethings in front of us at the Grange check-out register were buying straw cowboy hats; the checkout clerk said, “going to Kenny Chesney, huh?” and they said yes. Back home at 3:30 it is hot, so I head to the cooler basement bedroom to read and take a nap.

Looking over this write-up of the day, it gives the impression that I was pretty busy, but it didn’t seem that way at all. On the contrary, it felt relaxed. This might be my template. I’m not officially retired yet and I am already on the Kenny Chesney Plan: no shirt, no shoes, no problem.

Day Minus-3, Sun June 28: A regular old Sunday morning: coffee, two Sunday papers, a sprinkling of raspberries from the garden for raspberry pancakes that we take onto the back deck to eat. Carlene Carter’s “Little Love Letters” on the box.

I’m reading two bedside books simultaneously and they turn out to be basically the same book by different authors: “Your Band Stinks” and “No Hit Wonder.” The plot of both: guys form high-school or college bands, never get famous, are still touring in a van at age 40-something. In both of these cases they seem more pathetic than noble (they were always grabbing for the wrong brass ring: too needy for the affirmation that comes with “making it” even though in both cases they also realize how ridiculous they seem). Some old musical troupers I know are in commendable bands with other elderly guys – like my friend Mark, who plays with both the Surf Monkeys and Sonic Shiva. Or my friend Mike “Pinky”, whose band the Smoke Ring was a one-hit-wonder (and then barely) in the late Sixties with “No Not Much;” they do a few “reunion” gigs a year around the Midwest where they are still remembered. In both cases these guys have more of a Sultans of Swing mentality than an American Idol ambition. Wisely.

Since everybody I talk to these days has advice for me about how to keep busy in retirement, quite a few well-meaning folks have suggested I should buy new guitar strings and get back into the game myself. I tell them, “That’s an idea.”

Today I’m really just hanging out and doing Sunday-style chores. Enid has taken our black cat Nadia down to the garden for an hour or so and then she’ll go to yoga. My list comprises folding the laundry and watching the Sounders at 4 o’clock.

Elena flies into SeaTac tomorrow from five weeks of research in Malaysian Borneo so we are focused on doing a few things to ensure a warm homecoming, mainly stocking up on her comfort foods.

Enid’s mom got in a fender bender; she’s pushing 90 years old and is still independent and driving herself around. She lives in Newcastle, about 15 minutes from where we are in south Bellevue, so every so often I see her green Ford Explorer bombing down the road. Naturally any kind of driving incident is concerning to us, considering that she is probably not the youngest motorist out there, but this latest thing just seems like a normal parking-lot bump and nothing to stress about.

While I’m straightening up around the house I turn on the afternoon Mariners’ game. Twenty or 30 years ago the great cartoonist Peter Bagge drew one where the characters were doing all the mundane things of summer life in each panel: “washing the car and listening to the Mariners lose on the radio,” “grilling hot dogs and listening to the Mariners lose on the radio,” “watching the kids play in the Slip-N-Slide and listening to the Mariners lose on the radio.” A full-page comic. It’s like that again this year. As they say, baseball is a marathon not a sprint. The same could be said for being an M’s fan, except that for us it’s a marathon without a finish line.

Day Minus -2, Mon June 29: Elena is home from Borneo so we spend all day catching up on details of life in Kuching and Sarawak and everything I didn’t know about that. In other words, everything.

Day Minus-1, Tue June 30: I sit down to pay the bills with a cup of Borneo coffee from a Sarawak roaster, brought home as a gift by Elena in her luggage. Excepting a few things that are on automatic-withdrawal payment, I still write checks and mail them in. It works for me. As the bills arrive in the mail I stash them in the same black fabric attaché bag I toted to work for 20 years. I’ve habitually been paying the bills every Monday since forever and see no reason to stop this routine now (I know that today is Tuesday, but yesterday was special, with Elena’s homecoming).

One of my retirement to-dos is to audit all of our regular bills, over time, and see where we can economize: for example, to decide whether Allstate really is the best insurance for us (we’ve just kept it for decades rather than hassle with shopping around and that kind of unexamined brand loyalty applies to a lot of other expenses in our lives). Why do we even have Century Link (mainly because we still have a landline phone that never gets used except when Enid’s mom calls – in other words, it is an expense that we need to keep)? Is Comcast worth it, or can we cut the cable somehow?

Enid has gone out for a run, Elena will probably sleep until noon after flying 24+ hours and I will do a little of this and a little of that. Besides the bill-paying my entire to-do list for today is: 1) take my walk, 2) watch the US v Germany in the Women’s World Cup semi-final at 4 o’clock. I think I can do this.

About 11 o’clock, I take an hour-plus walk through some nearby neighborhoods, up to Summit, around Horizon View and back home. Good workout. Also on the fitness front, I’ve finished my 30 Day Abs Challenge; it started out easy and got brutal but I kept up with it most of the days. While I was cooling down from my workout today I grabbed the loppers and trimmed up some nasty-looking encroaching shrubs, plus one dead bush, right at the top of our entry stairs – a job, like many, that I’ve been meaning to do for months, and which takes all of 10 minutes once I actually get after it.

I jump in and out of the shower. Elena is playing Bob Dylan songs on guitar in the music room, so I sing “The Times They Are A’Changin” and “Don’t Think Twice” with her.
Then she went out for her run and Enid is up in the studio painting, so I have the house to myself. I eat an apricot and a plum and lie down in bed on top of the covers to work the daily-paper crossword and maybe slip in a little nap. This evening after the game and dinner we’ve got a Family Movie Night date to watch an On Demand film – we end up with “McFarland USA” a nice feel-good picture for the low-low price of $4.98. Before that, though, while watching the soccer game (great, by the way, a 2-0 US win – USA! USA!) I drink a beer.

This is a novelty since I gave up beer and bread a year or so ago – too fattening for an old man’s metabolism – but I love heavy dark porters and stouts. A guest at a get-together here a month ago left a bottle of Ballast Point porter in the fridge so what can I do but drink it. Very good. Who knows, I might try a slice of bread next. Live large. You only go around once.

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