Category Archives: Life after retirement

On Being 67

Last week I wrote a review of my life after one year of full-time retirement.  I left the paid workforce right after my 66th birthday. My retirement and birthday will forever be linked, but they are still separate events. When I blogged about my retirement, I structured the post to focus on functional things, like my hobby life.  Today, I would like to focus more on what aging has brought me.

My 67th birthday was a shock to me.  I was the “surprise” in my family and was born 7 years after my next closest sibling. When you are in such a position, it seems that you’re always younger than those around you. However, time marches on, and it will eventually catch up to you.

The average life expectancy for a man in the US is 78.69 years or roughly a decade from my current age. This is a sobering number that I hope to exceed, but it does give me pause.  When I was in my 20s, it seemed that I had an infinite amount of time to determine my destiny. When I entered my forties, I realized that half of my life was over. During my 50s, I convinced myself that being 50 was the new 40.  I am now 67 and much closer to 70 than 50. It is difficult to find a slogan to soften that fact.

I am not a person who spends a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. I will glance at myself when I’m washing my face or brushing my teeth, but I don’t pay a lot of attention.  However, sometimes I’ll accidentally see my reflection when I’m out and about. During those situations, I shock myself. “Who is that old dude?… Gads, it’s me!” I’m grey, bald, and something strange has happened to my skin, it wrinkly! When did that happen?” 

My 67th birthday cake.

I am very grateful that I’m healthy, and I try to be active.  However, as you age you are not as strong or supple as you were when you were younger.  When I’m sitting for a long time, I become stiff. I get random aches and pains that seem to have no other purpose other than to aggravate me. I find myself hunching over and have to consciously force myself to walk more erectly. I can no longer sleep without a pillow, as my neck refuses to lie flat.  

I find that I multitask less, and I’m more inclined to “take a little break” after I do an activity like grocery shopping. I’m more cautious when facing novel situations. I worry more about ice when I walk. It takes me a bit longer to learn something new. Also, I’m aware that I’m at an age where “stuff happens.” Men in my decade develop serious illnesses, have heart attacks, and get cancer. This is sobering.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have more unstructured time, which is something that I have not had since my teens.  I love to ponder random things and expand my knowledge. I enjoy exploring. The other day I spent several hours trying to find something that I had not used for years.  In the past, I would have given myself 15 minutes to search, and then moved on. However, I took my time, and in the process of hunting, I discovered a few other fun items.  This wasn’t 15 minutes of “I don’t have time for this” torture, it was two hours of fun and discovery.

I am doing more win/win activities.  My recent cake decorating class got me thinking;  I’m pretty sure that I can duplicate fancy bakery cupcakes (think “Molly’s”) at a fraction of the cost of buying them at a cupcake boutique. Tomorrow, I’ll make some lemon/poppyseed cupcakes with a lemon curd filling, and a zesty citrus frosting.  If they turn out, I’ll give them to Julie, and she can take them to her Bible study group. I avoid concentrated forms of sugar, but I can still have fun learning this new skill.  

Filling cupcake liners
Coloring American buttercream frosting.
Filling the cupcakes with lemon curd.
The final product was given to Julie for her group.

I’m available to help my friend, Tom, with any task that he may come up with. It has been great fun to spontaneously do things with him. 

Julie and I put together a care package for my daughter, who is currently living in Africa. I was able to spend the time to find my old “Seal-A-Meal” and vacuum pack the items for safer transport. I avoided a “here’s one more thing to do,” mentality. Instead, I imagined the smile on my daughter’s face when she received items that weren’t broken or stale.  

I think that the life experience that comes with age has allowed me to better enjoy doing these things.  I have come to believe that small things can be just as rewarding as significant events. An expensive trip is incredible, but so is helping someone you care about. 

With age, I have become happier with what I have.  When I was younger, I was more likely to associate happiness with material possessions. The car that I drove was important, as were other physical trappings. These desires lessened years ago, and now things appear to have little value beyond their actual utility.  I am grateful for what I have.

I feel that I’m good enough. I think some may assume that I’m a competitive person (being a doctor, and all of that).  However, this has never been the case. I have structured my life so that my trajectory falls squarely on my abilities alone.  My successes are not fueled by someone else’s failures. I believe that it is irrelevant if my life is better than another person, it is more important that I’m improving who I am.  However, I do want to be on an even playing field with those around me. I live in a town that has frequently been cited as one of the best places to live in the US. I have a beautiful house, but many have much larger homes.  People talk about their exotic trips and expensive purchases. Fancy cars, like Teslas, are commonplace. I had intellectually distanced myself from envy a long time ago. However, with age, this denunciation has been embraced by my emotional self. 

I indulge myself in random interests. I now have more time and less responsibility. Soon I’ll take a day trip to rural Illinois to photograph small-town landscapes. I want to take a few days to travel in Violet the campervan to Southern Illinois to visit a National Forests. I’m considering a solo trip to see my kids. I’m thinking about taking an adult education class. And much more.

Massive grain storage on the prairies.
The county courthouse in Oregon, Illinois.
A doorway at an abandoned college campus in Mt. Carroll, Illinois.
Storefront in Savana, Illinois.

I have become more frugal. It should be noted that my retirement celebration cake from Genesis was in the form of an Amazon package. A nod to the many packages that I would receive at my workplace. Therefore, the above statement may seem shocking to my former co-workers. I am attempting to make do with less. I’m trying to prepare foods that I purchased, and eat the foods that I prepared. I’m asking myself the question, “Do I really need that?” when I’m at the store or looking on-line. It feels good to use less.

A retirement cake in the shape of an Amazon package.

I cry easier.  I was recently watching a documentary on TV that had a happy ending, and I found myself tearing up with happiness. I genuinely feel sad when I read about people who are suffering. I’m more likely to be overwhelmed with love for those close to me.  An emotional barrier has broken inside of me, and I’m not complaining.  

I feel a greater need to spend time with people who I care about, and less time with obligatory connections. I want to be with people who I love, and I don’t want to waste even a moment.

Things that excited me as a child are exciting to me again.  A snowstorm no longer means a lousy commute, it is a wintery adventure. A walk in the woods isn’t just exercise, it is a discovery opportunity.  From decorating cakes to home construction, I celebrate activities and experiences.

Snow on my morning walk.
Snowy covered bridge on my walk.
A snowy path along my walk.

It has become easier to say no.  I have always been good at setting limits, but I would still succumb to doing things that I didn’t want to, as I didn’t want to disappoint people.  I still want to extend myself, but it is easier to pass on things that I really don’t want to do.

I savor every day. Each day can be as fantastic or miserable as I choose to make it. I find myself making a conscious effort to enjoy every single day. I don’t have time to place my life on hold.

Every phase of life has negative and positive realities.  Being freed from the burden of a 60 hour/week work schedule has opened up new opportunities, and has allowed me to revisit old interests. Each day is a new beginning, and I want to take advantage of every moment.

Retired One Year, A Review.

At the end of February 2019, I fully retired from the paid workforce. After working my entire life, I was ready for this move, but I was uncertain of what my future would hold.  In preparation, I developed goals and objectives similar to what I would have done in my working life, but I was unclear if these tasks would be enough to keep me busy and happy. As an exercise to myself, I thought I would write about this first year of being a full-time retiree.  Perhaps it will guide me as I enter into year two.

Some of my initially planned activities worked, some failed, some were revisited, and new ones emerged. Surprisingly, things that I didn’t place on my list turned out to be more critical than some of my planned activities.  So, let’s get started!

Organizing my life

I am a person who likes to discover and compare things; I have acquired a lot of stuff.  Also, my home housed my wife and our four children. When we faced the dilemma of what to do with things that we “might use someday,” the items typically found their way into our basement. For me, the thought of cleaning out this mess has always been entirely overwhelming, and to combat this, I have been tackling the cleaning project one garbage bag at a time.  After one year, I have cleaned out a utility room and a considerable crawlspace, but I have much more to do. Yet, I’m satisfied with my progress. I don’t have a timeline for this task, and every item that goes to Goodwill or the junkpile is a personal victory.

The crawl space finally cleaned out…one bite at a time.

Health

Five years ago, I started a radical change in my behavior in anticipation of my retirement.  I began to exercise regularly and changed my diet, most notably avoiding concentrated forms of sugar.  In the process, I lost quite a bit of weight.

I continue to exercise and avoid sugar.  However, my eating has increased. I do try to eat healthy choices. However, my weight has crept up, which is discouraging, but not unexpected. 

I have never been able to maintain a stable weight. In other words, my weight has always climbed.  I understand this, and I am much kinder to myself around this reality. However, it does have negative consequences.  For instance, I’m reluctant to go to the doctor as I absolutely don’t want the “your gaining weight” lecture. (“Really?  I didn’t know that. Thanks, so much Dr. Obvious.”) I rarely let my feelings impact my sound judgment, so I know that if needed, I’ll force myself to seek medical attention.  Luckily, I’m pretty healthy at the moment. And yes, I’m working on my pride issues. 

Creativity, Learning, and Teaching.

We all have things that turn us on.  For me, the trinity listed above is at the core of my feeling happy and productive.

I am pleased to say that I have pursued many of my planned interests as well as some unplanned ones.  There are so many different things that I’m doing that they could be the topic of their own post. However, some of my highlights include:

Writing

I love to write, which is why I started this blog.  Initially, I had grandiose plans, but I now understand that my purpose for writing isn’t to change the world.  My blog has turned out to be a written history of who I am and what I believe. It is my hope that this will serve as a record for my children and beyond.  I don’t want to be a forgotten footnote to those people who are most important to me.

It is common for me to think, “I have nothing to write about this week.” However, I always seem to come up with something.  I find that most of my writings have a message or lesson. This is not planned, I think it is just the way I think.  

Visual Arts

I love photography, and I have recently turned some of my photos into my own personal “works of art.” My photography has changed a bit over the last year as I seem to be doing more work for others.  Since I enjoy helping people, this has been a win/win.

My biggest “client” is my best friend, Tom.  I have taken countless photos of in-progress and completed construction projects, and this has forced me to learn an entirely different type of photography.  Also, I have been shooting everything from portraits, corporate shots, school dances, and events. I love the combination of creativity and technology that photography allows. I want to continue to expand and enhance my photographic skills in the next year. At the moment, I believe that my future expansion will be in landscape photography.

Photos make your story alive.
Doing architectural photography has been a new learning experience.
My homemade “Loo Art.”

My Podcast

In 2006 I started a reasonably successful podcast called “Psychiatric Secrets Revealed.” Earlier this year, I abandoned it, as I thought it had gone stale.  A viewer on my YouTube channel suggested that I use YouTube to read my blog posts, and this served as the perfect opportunity for me to reactivate the podcast as a forum for a reading of my weekly blog.  Where this will go, I have no idea.

YouTube

My little YouTube channel (“Saving Savvy With Dr. Mike”) has always been a project designed to help others by disseminating honest, if opinionated, information on a variety of topics. 

In the past, I would do a lot of camera reviews, but I’m retired now and can’t buy the “camera of the week.” However, I still manage to crank out videos.  However, they have shifted focus, and they now challenge YouTube influencers who seem more interested in selling products than helping people (my personal opinion). I have found an audience of like-minded folks who have become their own little community. 

Other creative pursuits

I’m cooking more and doing a variety of cooking-related things. I will often post my meals on Facebook, and this seems to inspire others to cook (how cool is that ?).  My kids gave me a one day cake decorating class at the Wilton school, and now I’m trying to hone that skill. Making dinner for my wife, baking with my kids, or making a fancy cake; it all has been great fun for me. 

Food served buffet style.
Trying to improve my cake decorating skills.

Adventure!

I am a homebody, and I never thought that I would be traveling as much as I have been.  With the help of my friend, Tom, I converted a Promaster cargo van into a camper and have done quite a bit of traveling in it.  It has been super-awesome (horrible phrasing, but wholly accurate)! I absolutely love the freedom of having a house on wheels… Violet the campervan has become a physical metaphor for my new found freedom .

My empty cargo van.
Empty van converted to Violet the campervan.

My wife, Julie, has also wanted to travel more, and she has been finding bargain flights.  We will fly into a city and then get a rental car to go to other places. What fun!

Congaree National Park. Beautiful, but we got soaked!

Some of my travels have been with Julie, some with relatives, some with Tom, and some solo.  That solo category deserves more comments, which I will do later in this post.

Hiking in Glacier National Park.
Rain and umbrellas. Camping with the cousins.
Tom building the fire.
Getting ready to watch a movie “in 4-D” at the Coke museum.

New Responsibilities

Julie is 10 years my junior, and she is still in the paid workforce. I have been trying to be a good citizen by taking over many of the household responsibilities. However, I know that balance is necessary.  I don’t mind doing a lot of the work, but I would be resentful if I had to do all of the work, or if her actions created unnecessary work for me. What I’m doing about this? I’m trying to be clear and direct with my needs and expectations.

Honesty

I have always thought of myself as an honest person, a reality further forced by the fact that I’m a terrible liar. However, I also am a person who likes to avoid conflict.  This latter fact has hampered me in personal relationships as I would often give in to the needs of those close to me under the guise that I was being a good person.

Such a position has unfortunate consequences.  First, it meant that I wasn’t getting my needs met. Second, it caused me to lose value to those close to me.  If you always get what you want it doesn’t have much value. Of interest, I have never had a problem being assertive in my professional life… so, go figure.

Several years ago, I changed course and started to express my needs, and also my feelings of disappointment when I perceived that those around me were being inconsiderate or not valuing me. This was not an easy change in behavior.  However, over time it has become more normalized.

When it comes to others, what is a reasonable expectation? What is excessive expectation? This is an area of personal growth that requires constant tending, and one that I continue to work on daily. I must be true to myself, so I can achieve authentic connections with those people who I love.

I am also trying to tell people that I love them. It is so easy to tell someone that you are mad at them, it should be just as easy to say to them you deeply value them.  

Spiritual Life

This is an area that I’m continuing to explore, and it goes beyond religion. I’m trying to meditate more and to open my mind in different, less structured ways.  I am also thinking more about spiritual writings. I recently did a 21-day modified fast to see what insights that practice would yield. This is a work in progress that I will continue to clumsily pursue.  

A bread only meal-fasting.

Unstructured Time

This one was a massive surprise for me.  I have always been a continually productive person.  In fact, it is how I defined my purpose in life. Much of my mission statement steamed from feeling unworthy as a child.  When teachers and other adults recognized my worth, it was because of my creative and academic abilities. These areas translated into how I saw my own worth.  I have spent my entire life learning, creating, producing, and teaching.

I now have unstructured time.  I can sit in a chair for an hour and look out the window.  I can meditate. I can read something that doesn’t have learning value.  There is a beautiful freedom in the above activities. I realize that these non-productive activities have just as much importance as focused learning times. Growth isn’t always about facts and figures.

Time to not be productive.

The builder

My father was reasonably handy around the house; we had many construction gadgets.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in teaching me about tools and techniques. In some ways, this was a good thing as it “forced” me to move in my own direction… science. 

My friend Tom is a general contractor and can do amazing things when it comes to building. Through him, I have been able to learn more about construction. My inner 12-year-old emerges every time I discover a new power tool. 

I love building, even if my understanding of it is limited. Through construction projects, I have been able to revisit an interest in my life that I had psychologically buried. I believe that I ignored this interest in the past as I was told that I was never good enough, and any project that I attempted on my own was ridiculed due to its naive implementation. As an adult, I have been given a chance to revisit construction, and with guidance, I have discovered that I absolutely can understand the process of building.  The more I learn about this profession, the more I want to learn. I enjoy a creative process with a clear outcome.

Tom and I remodeled my powder room.

Relationships

This one may be obvious to the rest of the world, but it was surprising to me.  I am an introvert who can be a functional extrovert when needed. For instance, I have no problem giving a lecture to 100 people. I’m not shy; however, to re-energize, I need quiet time.

I have no problem being alone, and I’m never bored with myself.  However, during this last year, I have come to realize how meaningful relationships are to me. If you have read my other posts you know who most of my prominent connections are.  In essence, I’m trying to be a better partner, father, sibling, relative, and friend. In return, I’m finding both a sense of connection and significance. That significance goes beyond what I can produce, it is a significance anchored on who I am.

Beyond core individuals, I’m trying to expand my social horizons. This is difficult as I’m an intense person who prefers to devote all of my energy to a few individuals rather than having casual contact with many.  As in most things, I’m trying to find balance.

I believe that my awareness of the importance of relationships in my life has not only been my most surprising self-discovery; it has also been the most important one.  

We were full of excitement and anticipation at this breakfast restaurant in North Dakota.
Joining hands to give thanks.
A small Droby Fest

So, where does that leave me?

Has my retirement been as good as I had expected?  No… It has been much better. I want to continue to grow and explore.  I want to expand my creative skills and continue to be healthy.  

I desire to increase two areas in my retirement adventure that I didn’t realize would be important.  Those two areas? My spiritual life and my relationship life. How I will do this isn’t exactly clear, but I know that the answers will come to me. 

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday.  Friends and family reached out to me to acknowledge this special day. Once again, it brought home to me how meaningful connections are in my life.

I have always wanted to have a positive impact on the world, no matter how small. I have come to believe that this has been and will be on an interpersonal level. If I can make someone’s life a tiny bit better, then I have had a successful day. However, I also understand that I have value in just being me.  

Peace

Mike

A retirement reception at Rosecrance.

Here is the audio reading of this post:

http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/one-year-retired-a-review

A Frying Pan Teaches Dr. Mike A Lesson

I looked in the sink, and it caught my eye. I had observed it many times before, but I had ignored it. Now, I felt different. I wanted to do something.

There, among the suds and water, was our ten-inch frying pan. The pan that I bought over ten years ago when we switched to induction cooking. The pot that we purchased because our old cookware wouldn’t work on a stovetop that used an oscillating magnetic field instead of one that heated by a gas flame or an electric coil. 

The pan had been shiny stainless steel the first time that I used it. It performed its job flawlessly, and I gave it little thought. It is easy to take for granted something that does its job well and without complaint. I suppose that is what I did with this pan.

Its interior was spotless, almost new looking. However, the pan’s exterior was an unsightly mess. After thousands of uses, its outer surface was covered in little spatters of burnt oil that had built up on its shiny surface, causing it to gain a streaky bronze-like appearance. Beyond this bronzing, there were significant blackish marks on the base of the pan that appeared like someone had drawn them with a fat black permanent marker.  

The pan’s thousands of cooking cycles each took their toll. Each cycle adding another droplet or two of burnt oil to its surface. Each cycle further bonding the older stains into the metal. A soapy sponge or scrubby did not eradicate these blemishes. Our dishwasher’s efforts were folly. The pan was wholly functional beyond its ugly exterior. The only options were to live with its unsightliness or to replace it.  

I was moved to clean it. I adjusted the water to a scalding hot, and I squirted more dish soap into the sink. I pressed the scrubbing side of a sponge against the tarnished metal, and with all of my might, I moved the sponge in concentric circles over the base of the pan. Over and over, I continued my efforts pressing so hard that my biceps ached. I agitated the surface of the pan to the point that thick creamy soap suds obfuscated it. I felt that surely I had made an impact. I rinsed the pan, and to my astonishment, it looked exactly as it did when I started. I double my efforts, and then tripled them, but to no avail. It seemed like the stains were there to stay. 

I paused and thought. It appeared that I was approaching this problem like I had approached many issues in my life, with brute force. During my pre-retirement life, I had little time to ponder, and I had to solve problems in as an expedient way as possible. I aggressively gave 100% of my time to get a job done. I thought that I had to do things this way as there were always ten other tasks waiting. When you work like this, you can never celebrate what you have done; the work that you are doing on one task serves only as a delay from starting the next job.

Perhaps it was time to approach this problem differently. I reached under the kitchen counter and grabbed an old can of Bar Keepers Friend and a pillow of steel wool. I then sprinkled the Bar Keepers Friend on the stained surface and made a paste by adding a few drops of water. I walked away. After a bit, I returned with the steel wool and scrubbed the pan’s surface. When I found myself pressing with a painful force, I backed off with a deliberate effort and used a light circular motion instead. My arms didn’t hurt, and the movement felt meditative. I found myself humming in rhythm as I continued my slow and deliberate actions. A quick rinse showed some progress. I repeated my steps of letting the paste sit and then lightly scrubbing the surface, and with each repeating cycle, more of the decade-old grime disappeared. 

Instead of continuing a pattern of actions that gave me a negative outcome, I approached the problem with thought and consideration. A gentler approach achieved my goal and left me energized instead of tired and frustrated. Understanding trumped aggression. 

And with that, dear readers, I end this week’s post.

Ten years of grime gone.

On Aloneness

I looked at the map and tried to find the most remote place on earth that seemed habitable. In my mind, that place was Baffin Island in Canada’s Northwest Territory. Vast and distant, it seemed to be the perfect spot. There I could be separated from the stress of negative interactions. I would pack all of my possessions with me. Books, electronics, scientific equipment, radios.

On Baffin Island, I would build a warm and secure cabin to protect myself from the elements. On Baffin Island, I could be myself.

Baffin Island was the mental place where I would go to as a child when I was feeling stressed or judged by the world and its people. This is where I would mentally travel when I was sick of acting a role so I could be accepted.

The power of a child’s fantasy is derived from the reality that it is not bounded by the constraints of logic. It is free-flowing with its only requirement being that it satisfies the needs of its creator, and Baffin Island was my fantasy. I knew that I was a loner, an introvert, a person who was happiest in his own thoughts. A person who was delighted to be left alone.

________________________

The preparations started months earlier, although I wasn’t sure what I was preparing for. I wrote pages of lists, watched dozens of YouTube videos, and mentally solved thought problem. I dug through my old camping gear, I gleaned gadgets from my electronics collections, I constructed things with the expert assistance of my friend, Tom.

I have come to believe that these actions were part of a greater coping strategy to deal with my internal anxiety. This statement seems strange, as I don’t consider myself to be an anxious person. I always could restructure my cognition, and when I face a stressful situation, I call upon that fundamental skill to calm myself and move forward. Yet, all of my preparation seemed to have a psychological motivation.

I also admit that I felt guilty about my plan to leave, but logically, I knew that I was adding only a few days to an already established trip. My feelings spawned out of causal comments that Julie said to me since I retired. “Did you have fun today?” She would ask when she got home from work.

I felt guilty that I had indeed had fun. A happiness based on no longer being responsible for the lives of others. A delight based on having the ability to do as I wished for once. I felt guilty that I was enjoying my freedom when she had many years of work ahead of her. I fully acknowledge that my interpretation of her comments was filtered by my personal assumption that the sole purpose in life was to produce.

The reason for my trip to Arizona was so I could clean my daughter’s college apartment and haul back the material contents of the last 4 years of her life. This act was productive, contributing, and even laudable. However, taking a few extra days to visit National Parks along the way was not. Logic told me that my actions were completely acceptable. I claim to be driven by logic, but I am actually ruled by my feelings, and those feelings made me feel guilty.

A psychological solution to my guilt appeared in the form of focused thriftiness. I decided that I would do whatever I could to reduce the cost of the trip and that somehow this action would justify those extra self-indulgent days. I would stay at National Park campsites. I would sleep and cook in my camper van. I would resist the temptation to buy unnecessary things. The thrifty strategy subdued my guilt, but that emotion was soon substituted with another even more ridiculous concern.

By coincidence random videos appeared on my YouTube homepage, most centering around bear attacks. There were instructional videos on how to protect yourself from maniacal bears. There were videos describing tales of loss of limb and life by grizzlies. There was even a video showing a bear using its massive claws to rip through a car door as quickly as one would poke a hole into a taut sheet of aluminum foil.

After watching a number of these videos, I told myself that enough was enough. I reminded myself that millions of people visit National Parks in any given year, and actual bear aggressions impacts a tiny percentage of those patrons. However, just to be on the safe side, I bought a canister of bear repellent and vowed to not smell like bacon when I was in bear country.

My trip preparation continued in earnest. I scoured the pantry for suitable camper food, and I made purchases of Knorr Sides and Spam Singles at the local market. I gathered my photography equipment. I filled my packing cubes with clothing. I put new batteries in my flashlight. There was nothing else that I could do, yet I continued to feel unsettled, and I didn’t understand why.

On the day of my departure, I found myself stalling to leave. Eventually, I pulled myself into my campervan’s cabin, buckled my seatbelt, and turned on the ignition. My solo trip was about to begin.

One mile became ten, ten became one hundred. I dug into my car food bag and munch on chips, mixed nuts, and Smart Pop popcorn. I calmed, but I still couldn’t understand what was really troubling me.

I traveled in external silence, thinking. I thought about making a helpful YouTube video for van dwellers. I plotted out the destinations of my trip. I remembered the contents of my cargo bins. And so it went.

My friend, Tom, would call to check on me, and I was happy about that. I would call Julie, and I was grateful that she seemed glad to talk to me, as I know she dislikes taking on the phone.

A conversation with one of my sisters here, a text message from one of my kids there, an encouraging Facebook comment or two. I was clearly looking forward to these interactions, and I was surprised how critical these touchpoints were for a loner like me.

I have never wanted masses of friends. I have never wanted to be popular. Such scenarios seem more exhausting than exhilarating. However, I cherish a small group of people. Those individuals represent my “Priorities,” and I will do whatever I can to make sure that I am there for them. However, traveling alone illustrated a second purpose to these relationships. Traveling alone had shown how imperative it is for me to be cared about by those who I care for. Traveling alone focused me on the reality that I need people in my life, and that it was the thought of separation from them that was the cause of all of my pre-trip anxiety. I find it curious that it is so easy for me to love, yet so difficult to imagine that others love me.

I don’t want to be cared for because of what I can do for someone, I have spent my life doing that. I don’t want to be included in a social circle only because I am entertaining, funny, or a good listener. Instead, I want to be loved and accepted for who I am. I want to be missed when I’m not around, and I want to be the source of excitement when I return on the scene.

During much of my life, I gained the acceptance of others by being whoever that person wanted me to be. Now, I want someone to see my soul and feel that I am good enough.

It brings me joy to comprehend that those people who I love also love me. As I write this, I am astonished by this realization, and eminently thankful for it.

On one phone call during my trip, Julie asked me if I was having a good time, and I told her, “Yes.” There are many positives when traveling solo. I set my own schedule and spend as much or as little time as I wish to do an activity. I can stay up as late as I choose, or go to bed as soon as I desire. These are wonderful things.

However, I did miss the lack of a traveling companion to share the wonders that I saw. Someone to be mutually amazed at the magnitude of the Great Sand Dunes, or to collectively wonder about the lives of the ancient Pueblo. I wanted to share a new sight, or a sunset, or conversation around a morning cup of coffee with someone that I care about. All of those activities seem sweeter when done with someone who you love.

This great adventure was an exercise in aloneness and was a success, but not the success that I initially imagined. Yes, I am perfectly competent by myself, but this trip illustrated to me how much I need others in my life, not to do for me, but to care for me. I am an introvert, but I’m not a loner.

As a child, I wanted to live on an island in isolation. As an adult, I realize the I am not an island unto myself. I still have much to learn about myself. Life lessons are everywhere. All I need to do is to stop and listen.

Hiking up one of the Great Sand Dunes.
Exploring a Pueblo Cliff Dwelling.
Hiking up a mountain.
Lake Apache.
Violet, my campervan.

Every Day Is Saturday

My birthdays have become important markers for me over the last few years. Their significance is less about my ever growing age, and they are more about a reflection of my previous year and a projection of my future one.

Last year I retired from private practice, but I continued to work 3 days a week for Rosecrance in Rockford. I also turned 65 and had a big party. Julie had asked me if I wanted a celebration get-together and she was surprised that despite my introvert nature I said yes. It was a most significant day as guests took the time to write remembrances of me that are now part of a scrapbook for my children and grandchildren.

Last year gave me two additional days of free time a week that I had initially planned to use in a concerted effort to improve myself and change the world. Reflecting one year later I did not change the world last year, but I did improve myself, just not in the ways that I initially envisioned.

Goals, like learning a foreign language and improving my guitar skills, fell by the wayside. Learning a language seems almost impossible with my poor auditory discrimination. It is likely that I will eventually focus more on my guitar playing, but I’m just not feeling it at the moment.

As far as changing the world is concerned, I think my grandiosity got the better of me. I believed that I could focus my passions for photography and writing, and combined these passions with my knowledge of human behavior to create a product that would have some sort of impact. I’m reassessing this goal, but not my passions.

It appears that my impact on others is much more significant when applied locally, rather than globally. This is something that should have been obvious to me as this has consistently been the case throughout my life.

I continue to write, and I believe that my overall writing has improved throughout this year. However, it is unlikely that I will be nominated for the blog hall of fame. I write now for the pleasure of writing, and to leave a chronicle of my life and ideas for my children and grandchildren. If my words impact a reader, all the better.

My photography has continued and is flourishing. I am doing a tremendous amount of architectural photography for my friend, Tom. Other photo opportunities are also presenting themselves, and in the next few weeks, I’ll be the contracted photographer for a Daddy/Daughter dance and a 50th wedding anniversary church service and reception. I have to say that I love the variety of doing different types of photography. Each presents its own kind of planning and method. My photos won’t be on any magazine covers, but I’m getting tremendous pleasure creating them as I think that they are serving a purpose higher than my own self-serving pleasure.

I feel most at peace in nature, and one of my goals has been to give myself the ability to experience the outdoors in the most cost-effective way reasonable. I don’t want the barrier of money to stop me from getting out among the trees. I am pleased to report that I am moving forward on this goal. Last summer I purchased a bare cargo van, and I have been in the process of converting it into a useable camper for one or two. Such a vehicle opens up many cost-effective possibilities for discovery. Last summer I had the initial interior shell installed by Wayfarer Vans in Colorado Springs, and since then Tom and I have been outfitting the van with vents, solar panels, and many other refinements. I now have a fully self-contained off-the-grid camper at the ready. I have already used it to travel on a few small trips and in May I will use it to meander to Arizona. Later in the summer, I will mount a trip to Glacier National Park. I am hoping that these trips will not only be soul cleansing, but they will also give me a chance to do more landscape photography. In addition, I am interested to see how my writing will change when I’m surrounded by pine trees instead of concrete.

I am doing things that were not part of last year’s plan. I’m learning more about construction; something that I enjoy immensely. I am also picking up a hobby that I abandoned over 15 years ago, Amateur Radio.

You may recall from previous posts that I have always loved radio, and as a grade school kid, I was building complex radios to exploring the airwaves. My private psychiatric practice was located by a lot of technology companies, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to treat scientists and engineers. In 1999 I had some knowledgeable experts warn me about the uncertainty of Y2K, and I eventually took them seriously. I felt that it would be important, not only for my family but also my local community, to have a way to communicate in a scenario where traditional communication lines were down. The apparent solution was Ham Radio, and I set myself a goal to obtain my radio license. In short order, I got a Technical Class license, then a General Class license, and finally the coveted Amateur Extra license. In my typical compulsive manner, I explored and bought radio equipment and practiced the art of using that equipment to make over-the-air contacts. My primary interest was in long-distance communications, but my small suburban lot didn’t have space for a proper antenna. Add to this reality my very long work schedule and the responsibility of raising young children, and I abandoned the hobby after about 3 years. I felt that I would never return to it.

I mentioned that I am planning a trip to Glacier National Park this summer, which has no cell coverage. Julie will remain at home during this trip, and I was thinking about ways to keep in touch with her. I explored the tools at my disposal, including my Amateur Extra license. In many ways traveling to a remote location is similar to having your community communication grid go down. No phone lines, no internet, no cell service. Ham radio could provide a communications solution. Unfortunately, Julie doesn’t have an amateur license, and so it would be illegal for the two of us to communicate over their air. However, there are options and the one that I plan to deploy is called Winlink. This is a protocol that allows the sending and receiving of email over the Ham radio bands. The recipient gets an email via their email client and can respond to that email just like they would any other email.

I have not been active in Amateur Radio for almost two decades, and I have forgotten much of what I had formally learned, so I’m now in the process of giving myself a crash course in electronics, radios, and communication law. You may think that my efforts are unnecessary and excessive, but that is the way I roll. I love learning and growing in knowledge.

Last week I had a much quieter, but equally lovely, birthday. Last Thursday Rosecrance also had a retirement reception for me. It was wonderful to be recognized, but also a bit sad as I’ll be leaving people that I have become fond of.

This week I will work today and tomorrow. This Friday my work life as I know it will be over. Some of my current activities may eventually fade from interest, but my life history tells me that there will always be new interests to take their place. Every day has become a new adventure and soon every day will be a Saturday for me.

Life is good!

A quiet but wonderful 66th birthday.

A retirement reception at Rosecrance.

Retirement, many changes.