The Long and Winding Road to Terri’s Retirement

August 30, 2019 was Terri’s last day at work. I have to admit, I almost didn’t believe it until nearly right up to the end. Oh sure, many were the days when I’d be heading off to a hike or such, and she would say “I wish I was going with you!” But then she’d talk about how she had the perfect job – she could show up when she wanted, leave when she wanted, and generally work as much or as little as she wanted during the week. And then there was the financial aspect, since her wages were completely at her disposal. Hairdresser, clothing, shopping for grandkids, dining out, something special for the house – how would that work once she retired? Plus she was really good at her job, and got a lot of satisfaction from doing it well. And she enjoyed the social interactions with her co-workers.

So we would discuss all the pros and cons with me on a regular basis. One week she’d be ready to turn in her notice, and the next week say that she didn’t know when she’d retire. Was I sure we’d have enough resources to retire? What would she do all day? How would it change our relationship? Where would her funds come from for her discretionary spending? So we talked, discussed, and explored thoughts and feelings. I tried to listen twice as much as I talked. We went back to our financial planner with questions and concerns, and were reassured that if we continued to have a prudent and restrained budget we’d be OK. And we have both developed a couple of side gigs that will get us out of the house, and bring in a few non-budgeted dollars of play money.

A few ideas to start our retired life

But – “Bill, you have your whole retirement planned out! Hiking, photography, your blog, volunteering, 1001 projects – what am I going to do?” So we talked about that. A few times. Or more. The last time, we were in the car, headed out … somewhere. So I suggested we brainstorm a bit, and we did. Fortunately, I always carry a pen and pad of paper in the car, so I had her write the ideas down, and we now have a starting list of 32 things to do! Some of them are one-off projects, and others we can do over and over again. She started to see the possibilities of living a retired life. 

Still, she had said she was going to retire and had changed her mind a few times, so when she said she’d retire at the end of August, I said “Good!”  A couple moments of silence, and she said “I thought you’d be more excited than that…” I affirmed that I would be delighted if she actually retired, but I’d believe it when I saw it. Sure enough, I saw some vacillation in determination, but as the days wore on, I heard an increasing acceptance of the idea of finally being done with work. 

So, on Friday, August 30th, she came home from work for the last time – and even came home an hour and a half earlier than normal. “Let’s go out to Chuckanut Manor and celebrate with a glass of wine,” she suggested, and course I said yes. As we drove, she shared some unexpected moments of sadness and loss as the finality of the situation sank in. She wondered why I hadn’t felt the same way when I left, and I reminded her that I had cut back from five days a week to four, and then to three, and then to two days a week starting this last January. I was able to slowly let go, and absorb my new reality, and immerse myself into this new life, while she worked more days and longer hours up towards the end to fulfill all of her commitments. So we pulled up to the restaurant, with its sweeping views of Samish Bay and the bucolic scene around it, and savored the moment. It was a perfect moment, and I didn’t want it to end, so I told her I’d treat her to dinner to keep the celebration going. You can read about it here if you’d like.

Rose Hips with Bellingham Bay in background

Saturday we went for one of our favorite walks in the historic residential area of Fairhaven, ending up on the waterfront walk from Boulevard park to the business district, then went grocery shopping. Sunday we went to church, then did a reprise of our previous days walk, coming home to sit in our gazebo with a glass of wine, gazing out at our beautiful little backyard garden before coming in to cook dinner together. Today we are headed out on a picnic to Washington park, overlooking the Salish Sea, and Wednesday we leave for a few days at Lake Chelan. Nothing huge or amazing here, but it feels like the perfect start to our new life together. We are both aware that there will be hiccups and challenges along the way, and are already planning strategies on dealing with them. We are also hyper-aware of time slipping by so very quickly, and so we are trying to live wide-awake to every moment that we get to share during this amazing season of our lives. Thanks for sharing some of those moments with us, whether in person, or through this blog!

Walking and Talking

Paradoxical. Yeah, that’s me. I admit I check my Facebook account a couple of times a day, I post photos onto Instagram, play Words with Friends, read the news, text and FaceTime, and even – when necessary – write emails. Oh yeah, and I’m working on this blog. So I may be over-connected, just me and my little digital bubble.

At the top of Burlington Hill

But I also enjoy people – whether it’s in Five Minute Friendships, chatting to the cashier at the grocery store, you name it. But while it seems simple, it’s really become apparent how conducive walking is to conversation. We live about 10 minutes away from Burlington Hill. It’s only 450’ at the top, but we like to park about a quarter mile away and walk to the top and back, just short of an hour. Our primary objective is to get some exercise, but invariably we find ourselves discussing – life. What did you think about xxx? How do you feel about xxx? How did yesterday go? What do you want to do today? So, about that trip to xxx, should we xxx? I always look forward to these walks with my wife. I feel we have pretty good communication skills, but it just seems so natural to walk and talk.

On the trail to Hannegan Pass

One of my retirement goals this year was to get in as much hiking in my beloved North Cascades as possible. I’ve often hiked these mountains solo, but at this point in my life, it feels more prudent to have a hiking companion when my wife can’t join me. Rick, newly retired to this area, is a member of our local Sierra Club, as am I. We talked a bit about hiking, and headed out on the trails. It has been fun and interesting to walk and talk with him, and to show him some of my favorite places up in the mountains. And the more we walk and talk, the better we get to know each other, and connect as fellow travelers on this adventure we call life. 

I think of others I have walked and talked with. Multi-day backpacks in the Utah red rock wilderness with my brother-in-law John; backpacks and canoe trips with my great childhood friend John; a difficult conversation with a close family member while we walked and talked; walks in beautiful parks with visiting friends, walks with my wife’s sister and her husband around their adopted town of Port Townsend, and so many more. 

Find someone to walk with

In this most interesting and introspective stage in my life, connections and relationships mean more than ever before. I think we all feel a loss of deep, true and meaningful connections in these days of instant, impersonal digital communications. It feels like our entire social fabric is coming unraveled as we become more and more dependent on our devices, and we become an isolated island of loneliness and quiet desperation. I think we would all do well to find someone and take a walk – and talk. You may not only improve your physical health, but your emotional health as well. Let’s get walking!

5 Minute Friendships UPDATE

I talked about 5 minute Friendships in a recent post on my blog  IAmGray . Sometimes something more happens. We had a few extra moments recently, and decided to do a little wine tasting at our favorite local winery, Dynasty Cellars. The tasting room was getting crowded, as a group of wine writers were in town to cover an annual nearby wine tasting event. There were two open spots at our table, so we welcomed Rob and Lynn to our table. Hailing from Woodinville, where there are over 90 tasting rooms for Washington wineries, they were in Bellingham for the weekend. 

The conversation was easy and relaxed, in a convivial setting, and we each shared a bit here and there, getting to know each other better. They both went to Seattle Pacific University by Queen Anne in Seattle – only blocks away from one of Terri’s sisters home! We shared memories of growing up back when the world seemed a much safer place, and places where we’ve gone wine tasting.

Turns out we have some very similar tastes in wine, and wineries, and before we knew it, they volunteered to do the driving on our next trip down to that area! Our time at the tasting room was running out, and we mentioned that we were going to be headed out to church soon. That sparked a whole new turn in the conversation, and we ended up inviting them to our church – and they accepted! Faith is a critical part of our journey, and it is always a joy to share it when appropriate (not here to shove it down anyone’s throat 🙂 

And so, just another affirmation of our desire to connect – as much as possible – with other people on this journey, and at this time. We love our 5 Minute Friendships, and the possibilities they offer!

Five Minute Friendships

We were in Halfwaytonowhere, Idaho a couple of weekends ago for my Cousins memorial service, staying at a nearby resort (the only lodging for miles around). We were having dinner at the restaurant, sitting out on their deck, when a couple of built-up hotrods pulled up. Turns out that there was going to be a small hot rod gathering that evening, so we settled in and waited for all of them to arrive. 

There were some really nice restorations, a couple of unusual vehicles, and some really built-for-racing rigs. We wandered around gawking and admiring, and struck up a couple of conversations. Rod had seen an article about a 1954 GM concept car, and vowed to have one some day. He spent years looking, and finally had one custom made for him – the 1954 Corvette with the Chevy Nomad roof. He is a retired firefighter from California, who travels back and forth between there and Idaho – no more shoveling snow for him! Super-nice guy, very friendly and outgoing. 

Then we met Mark and Katherine – turns out she graduated from Ferndale High School, same school as my daughter! They met in college many years ago, moved to New York, then back out west. If I remember right, his uncle had a home on a nearby lake, where he had spent a lot of time with family as a youth. They were able to purchase that home, and lived there for several years before a neighbor convinced them to sell. They then moved into the resort community we were at, loved it, but are looking for a new place.

So, what’s the point? Both of these are examples of what we call “Five Minute Friendships”. It’s all about being open, and reaching out to people, and connecting with them. Generally we never see these people again, but in the meantime, we’ve taken the time to put our phones down, look people in the eye, and share a bit of ourselves with them, and listen to them share a bit about themselves. In this fast-moving, increasingly impersonal world, we consciously take the time to try and connect with others. 

My wife is currently reading a book called “Life After Heaven” by Steven Musick. She has shared the basic storyline with me, and I’m excited to read it as well. The backstory is amazing and really powerful, then gets into a concept the author calls “Bubbles from Heaven.” Basically it takes the Five Minute Friendship to the next level, when you open your eyes to see a need, then open your heart to meet that need. My friend Don did that a while. Here’s what happened in his words: “I  was at Costco just before Christmas. A woman with three young children had a sizable amount of groceries on the belt. The cashier found that her  husband’s Costco card hadn’t been renewed for a long time. They tried everything to get it to work, but they told her they were sorry and started removing her stuff. When she was taking her toddler out of the cart, I felt a spiritual slap across my head as if I was asleep. I told them to put everything through and I paid for it. She was tearfully embarrassed and thankful. I said “God bless you and Merry Christmas.” In retrospect, I think it had more effect on the cashier and boxer……. and my wallet ;). Look at how many were blessed by this bubble from heaven!

And I guess that’s a part of why I write this blog – I want to make more connections with more people. I want to do my part to experience bubbles from heaven. I love technology, but I love people more. I’m looking forward to many more Five Minute Friendships – or a GREAT friendship – with you!

Yesterday vs. Yesteryear

We went and saw Yesterday with some friends yesterday. Short take, no spoilers, a failed musician gets hit by a bus. The lights go out all over the world, and when they come back on, everything looks the same, but some things no longer exist, and never did – in this case, the Beatles, and all their music. But he remembers virtually all their songs, starts playing them, and everyone thinks they’re his, and the world goes nuts over the music. Interesting premise, and – like most of you – I grew up listening to the Beatles, so I was curious about this movie.

I  had just turned 13 years old when their first hit “Love Me Do” hit the airwaves here late 1963. I was an instant fan. As I grew and matured, so did they and their music. They broke new ground with every album they released; it was hard to say how much they changed the world, and how much they mirrored the incredible changes that were sweeping the world. Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds was released in May of 1967, just as I graduated from high school, with its implicit endorsement of LSD and psychedelia.

So, I was intrigued by the move Yesterday. First, let me say I really enjoyed it on several levels, and recommend it. But what surprised me was the impact the music had on me, even being presented in the extraordinary circumstances of the plot. Several times I found myself on the verge of tears, which blew my mind. I just rode it, but knew I’d have to go back and analyze what the heck was going on as no one else was obviously impacted the way I was.

One thing about me is that always looking for what’s new, and figuring out what that might look like in my life. From bringing home a Commodore 64 (the first affordable home computer) to the first iPhone; from going from vinyl to 8 track to cassette tapes to CD’s to streaming; from Flat-top haircuts to very long hippy hair and back to shorter hair and almost back to Flat-tops, and so on, I’m always on the lookout for the new. Especially in music. While many of my friends and peers music choices today reflect the music they grew up listening to, I’ve adopted more varied new music styles than I can keep up with. For example, right now I’m streaming The Growlers station on Pandora; their music is labeled “Beach Goth”. Sure, I’ll put on BTO or Psychedelic music if I want high energy to clean the house, but that’s about it. 

I guess in many ways I’ve run from my past. It wasn’t horrible like so many have experienced, but it wasn’t very good either, and I’ve been more than happy to shove it back into the spare room closet, rarely seeing the light of day. So when all of this seminal music from my past started playing, one song right after another, it was like I was a disembodied spirit flying over and then becoming emotionally entangled with the feelings from my past. And it kind of feels sickenly indulgent to weep about that sad, lonely kid from over 50 years ago. I can’t go back and change who I was, and frankly, I wouldn’t if I could, because every event in my life then led me to my life right now. Things will never be perfect in this world, but I’ve never been happier than I am now. 

Yesterday was great, but I’m going to let it move into the spare room closet with yesteryear. It was an interesting little side-trip, and I got to learn a bit more about myself. And if you have some tips about some cool new music you are listening to, please let me know!

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

….It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes

Nothing remains quite the same

With all of our running and all of our cunning

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane!”

Jimmy Buffett

It’s true that our winters in Western Washington can be long, cool, damp and … gray. We are infamous for our rain, which starts in October, and ends the day after the 4th of July weekend. The Hoh River rainforest can get up to 170 inches of rain a year; even though our winters are pretty mild by most standards,  the dampness can just kind of creep into your bones and settle there. So, it’s not surprising that many of us like to travel to desert or tropical climes to remember what the warm sun feels like on our skin.

It’s also not surprising that at a certain point in one’s life, finances permitting, many like to relocate to warmer, drier climes (the converse, weird as it seems, is also true – I often see people who have lived in, say, Arizona, come up here for our lush landscape). All that is well and good, except …

I will admit that while I feel I am a friendly guy, I don’t find it particularly easy to make new friends. A few years back we connected with another couple, and quickly established a warm, close bond. We go to dinner, check out local wineries and breweries, take weekend trips and even occasionally vacation together. We even just hang out, telling each other our stories over a glass of wine or two. They had made their home and yard a beautiful, park-like setting, have family locally, participated musically in the worship team at church, and loved the area. But. Our weather was increasingly becoming an issue, and one day they just up and sold their home, and moved to California, both for the weather and to be closer to their aging parents. Suddenly there was this huge gap in our lives.

To top it off, even as we are becoming closer to some mutual friends (love you guys, you know who you are), they bought a lot in Montana with the intention of moving there (at least during the snow-free months) once they retire in a few years. And other close friends I’ve know most of my life are dealing with health issues, so the times we’ve stayed with them, and trips we used to take with them to sunny southern locations may no longer be an option. Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.

On the plus side, we always have a terrific time with my wife’s youngest sister and her husband, and with my cousin and her husband up in B.C.. We’ve made some new connections with couples that love to hike, and who love live music. We even enjoyed a family reunion with my four siblings, and created new and stronger bonds there.

Our new challenge is to build and nurture the relationships we already have, and to accept, embrace, and move forward in a quest to find new people with whom we can share our journey. Wanted: couples who love to laugh, love the blues and rock’n’roll, enjoy an occasional glass of wine (or beer), and are  willing to share their story with us as we share ours with them. They say staying flexible as you age is important; I guess that applies both physically and relationally. Time to start stretching!!

HORRID AGE SPOTS

When I was young, I was a voracious reader. I mean I read everything, including my mom’s Good Housekeeping magazines. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, I’ve always remembered an ad in there, and it has now come back to haunt me. You might even remember it – “GET RID OF HORRID AGE SPOTS!. Just buy their cream, and hey presto! The’re gone!

I guess you can figure out where this is headed; yes, I DO have “horrid age spots’. It was kinda like going shopping, getting back to your car, and finding a ding on the door. Disbelief, shock, anger, and then, resignation. Well, at least they’re not painful.

And age spots would be okay, if that’s where it stopped, but noooooo. Suddenly the back of my hand looks OLD. When did that happen? I remember when my facial hair started growing gray, and I finally convinced my wife I’d look sooo much better if I shaved the gray caterpillar off my upper lip.  Actually made me look a bit younger, for awhile. Then there are the incipient wattles, aka Turkey Neck. I’d shake my head in disgust, but I hate the flapping.

All of these are bad enough, but my nemesis is  – wait for it – hair. Hair on my head. Not the stuff on top, thinning and (ahem) soon and suddenly to go gray. No, I’m talking about the hair that is creeping up my neck and back, trying to peek out over my shirt collars. I’m talking about the zillion hairs in my nose that would pass for a mustache if I didn’t trim them. I’m talking about the ones growing out of my ears. Really, what evolutionary benefit does that impart to an aging male that is already showing signs of hearing loss (didn’t we all turn the amps up to 11 when we were young?). Seems like that little forest of ear hairs would keep even MORE sound out.

Finally, not to be outdone, are the Eyebrow Hairs. Why do they grow so much when the top of my head is losing so much? I’ve actually wondered if I could use them for a comb-over; certainly cheaper than getting hair implants!

At night, when I am dreaming, I am young, vibrant and strong. Well, in my dreams, I can also play the guitar like Eric Clapton, and I can often fly. Point is, I’m never old, or even middle-aged. But then I wake, jump in the shower, and there they are! Horrid Age Spots! Hey, what was the name of that cream again??? Asking for a friend.