The end of February brought another anniversary. I have now been retired from Genesis for three years and from Rosecrance for two.
On my 68th birthday, Julie noted that I had retired well, and I agree with her assessment. COVID has undoubtedly impacted me during this last year, but it hasn’t all been negative. As I have said many times, events are neither bad nor good; they just are.
So, where is my life, and how is it different from what I imagined?
When COVID reared its ugly head Julie and I had just become empty nesters. We had gone on a few trips, and we were coming to terms with our changing roles. Julie was now the worker, and I was the stay-at-home partner.
Friends and family had voiced concerns that it would be difficult for me to transition from a high-stress professional career to a suburban homemaker’s role. However, that change was not at all difficult for me. I had never had a problem doing domestic tasks—my life before I remarried required that I have a comfort level with cooking and cleaning.
Just as I was fully embracing our new couple’s life, COVID hit, and our three youngest children returned home. I was delighted to have them back in the safety of Naperville. Still, I now had to adjust to having a family of 5 adults living under one roof.
I was strictly compliant with the stay-at-home mandate for its first few weeks. Surprisingly those restrictions harmed my mental health. I say surprisingly, as our house was full of people, plus I’m an introvert. However, it was clear that I needed to gently and safely broaden my social circle, and that was precisely what I did.
I also started to challenge myself with my endless lists of shoulds I “should” be more productive. I “should” continue hobbies that no longer interest me. I “should” tackle odious home projects. I reached a point during this last year where I decided that my life could be about more than always working towards goals. Especially when those goals had little real meaning.
During this last year, I continued to accept that I’m an obsessive person who comes from a long line of driven people. I like hyper-focusing on a particular topic. I love becoming an expert on trivial things. Such actions excite me. In the past, I viewed my behaviors with a certain amount of shame. Shame that my obsessiveness was odd or different. However, I now celebrate that difference. My actions harm no one and enrich me.
A recent visit to my primary care physician resulted in his suggestion that I monitor my blood pressure. This launched an obsessive interest in home blood pressure technology that has occupied me for the last few weeks. Others may think that such actions are crazy, but why should that concern me? I am in the process of compiling my findings in a post that may be helpful to others, and that is enough of a reason for my continued attention. I know that this short-term interest won’t last, but there is always something new on the horizon to catch my eye.
Some of my obsessions last much longer, but COVID has forced me to temper them. My passion for photography continues, but many of my photographing opportunities have not. COVID has robbed me of my small town visits, family get-togethers, and professional gigs. However, I continue to take photos for my friend Tom’s blog, and I genuinely enjoy helping him.
My passion for camping and minimalism has also been altered because of COVID. Before I go any further, I understand that those who know me are probably snickering that I connected myself with the term “minimalism.” I freely admit that I am an owner of things. I am a collector who is fascinated by the difference between similar objects. I am a person who has a house that is full of junk. Dear reader, I am a complex human, not a one-dimensional caricature. There is a part of me that likes stuff and a part of me that wants simplicity. When I am camping, I travel with very little, and I love the freedom that this brings me.
I did go on a few trips, but less than what I had hoped to do. I also spent a week of urban camping in Violet the campervan. Julie had a COVID quarantine, and I was concerned about my health. Despite what you may hear on YouTube hipster channels, urban camping sucks. I am grateful to have experienced it so I could sensibly develop that conclusion.
I mentioned that my three youngest kids returned home as soon as I had become comfortable with our empty nest. I am happy to report that I did adjust to my kids’ return. They came back to us as adults, but all of the shelter-in-place restrictions brought back a bygone time when our family was less diluted by other social obligations. We played games again, binge-watched TV shows, and (my favorite) cooked meals together. It was such a delight to go on long “adventure” walks with my kids. Something that I used to do with them when they were in elementary school. These times were wonderful gifts from COVID.
My Kathyrn left home when she was a sophomore in high school to attend IMSA. She then matriculated to the University of Arizona. When she graduated college, she joined the Peace Corps and moved to Africa. When COVID hit, she was evacuated back home. I have always had a good relationship with Kathryn, but it was still a bit distant. She connected well with Julie, and for that, I was grateful.
Over this year, my two youngest returned to college, and with Julie working, it was often just Kathryn and me. Over time we have become a team and a good one at that. Kathryn helps me clean the house, we grocery shop together, and we make and eat many meals together. I am a good teacher but a terrible driving instructor, but Kathryn needed to get her driver’s license, so we worked that out. Along with doing the tasks of life comes conversation, and along with talking comes connection. I don’t think that I have ever felt closer to her—another COVID blessing.
The year continued to educate me about my need to be connected with others. I am definitely not a person who needs to be the most popular kid on the block. I don’t need to have a million friends. I don’t need to be the center of attention. However, I do need connections. This last year I have strengthened many of my existing relationships. Naturally, that includes Julie and the kids. It also includes my relations with my extended family.
During much of my marriage, I was solely concentrated on my immediate family and my professional life. Over the last years, I have realized the importance of having male friendships in my life. This last year, I have strengthened my connection with the handful of men I call real friends, and I have been rewarded by their wisdom and caring. It has been a tremendous growth experience.
Has this year of COVID retirement impacted me? In ways opposite of what I could have expected. Many people have suffered because COVID has isolated them and diluted the connections they had with others. For me, it has had the opposite effect. I find that fact both interesting and remarkable.
This last year has allowed me to slow down and to stay in the moment. It has shown me how significant relationships are in my life. It has allowed me to rely on others and to ask for help. Something that I would have found impossible to do even a decade ago. Miracles can happen.
This has not been a “lost year,’ as some feel. It has been a different year. Remember, different doesn’t mean bad.
I move into my next year with anticipation and excitement. I wish the same to you.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It all started when my wife, Julie, returned to the paid workforce. My kids had been used to home-cooked meals, but her lack of time had them dining on fast food, delivery pizza, and frozen entrees. I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by starting a family cooking day that I labeled, “Cooking With Dad Thursday.” My goal was to provide my kids with more than a meal, I wanted to teach them how to cook and have them experience the fellowship of sharing a group-made meal.
The task was multi-faceted. We would plan, shop, cook, and clean up together. Each cooking Thursday culminated with a Facebook post where I would upload a photo of the plated and completed meal. Naturally, I tried to present our dishes in their most favorable light on Facebook. I would always ask my kids, “Reality or Facebook reality?” when I posted the photo in an attempt to emphasize that most things that you see on Facebook are highly curated. Another effect of posting the picture surprised me; friends started to post pictures of their homemade meals. Also, “Cooking With Dad Thursday,” spawned a mini-movement of others preparing real food from scratch.
I grew up eating great food. My mother magically threw things together in the most delicious ways. She didn’t teach us how to cook, but she did write down some of her recipes in a ledger style notebook, which was passed to my brother when she died. Her musings provided her with the information that she needed to remember a recipe but they were incomprehensible to anyone else.
Most of the “Cooking With Dad Thursday” recipes originated from conventional sources. Standard cookbooks like “The Betty Crocker Cookbook,” and “The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook” provided some inspiration, but most of my recipes were procured and printed off of the internet. I have always felt comfortable cooking, as the process is a form of practical chemistry. I have been making meals for decades and can interpret a list of ingredients quickly. Most of the recipes that I selected had to conform to the tastes of my kids and also be essential enough to teach a particular cooking technique.
Many of the dishes were well-liked by my children and warranted saving, but where? The answer came early in the form of an old and somewhat beaten up school folder from my son William’s elementary days. Its bright orange color made sure that we wouldn’t lose it; all that it needed was a little updating. With a black marker, I scratched out Will’s name on its front, and in a bold and sloppy script, I wrote “Dad’s Super Secret Recipe Vault.” The folder was neither super-secret or a vault, but reality should never stand in the way of a creative process. During any Thursday meal, I would ask the kids, “Is this dish worthy of saving in the vault?” If the answer was yes, I would toss it in the folder. One checkmark indicating pretty good and two checkmarks noting that the dish was excellent.
Nowadays, my kids can make anything from a savory lasagna to 6 loaves of 100% whole wheat bread. However, they are in college and beyond, causing “Cooking With Dad Thursday” to become a school break activity.
When a door closes, a window opens. With our new empty nest status, Julie and I had to negotiate who would be the meal preparer. In an egalitarian fashion, we decided to split the duty. I’m now the Sunday chief, and so “Cooking With Day Thursday” has evolved into “Simple Sunday Supper.” Julie is a more adventurous eater than the kids, and so I can revisit the culinary memories of my past, including soups, stews, and casseroles. However, she has banned peas from the list of acceptable ingredients.
My new routine often starts with an internet search for a potential meal candidate. Once printed, I check our larder to see what we have in stock. I’ll highlight any needed purchases directly on the recipe, fold it, and stick it in my pocket to serve as a shopping list. I dislike large stores, and so I’m fortunate to have a little grocer called “Fresh Thyme” just a few blocks away. Although limited in selection, they have all of the basics plus a good meat counter and an excellent fruit and vegetable section. It is a short and easy trip for me to buy any needed ingredients, and the store’s limited selection prevents me from overbuying.
I have also taken over the weekly house cleaning, which I do on Sundays. It is a bit of a balancing act when it comes to time management. However, I’m getting good a juggling these tasks and cooking is hardly a hardship.
Yesterday I made Italian sausage and lentil soup garnished with a little sour cream and served with chewy ciabatta bread. Total cooking time in my Instant Pot was 25 minutes, and it was the perfect dish for a frigid fall night. Julie gave me a thumbs up on dinner, and so I marked the recipe with two checkmarks. Where did I save it? In “Dad’s Super Secret Recipe Vault,” of course!
The folder is now over two inches thick. It has been loosely divided into categories such as “stovetop,” “oven,” and “Instant Pot.” In that old and now worn-out folder resides years of recipes and memories. It may not have the charm of my mother’s handwritten cookbook, but it is wholly legible and clear. I hope that someday one of my kids will want the collection, and perhaps they will teach their children using some of the recipes that we so lovingly made. The vault may serve as a new tradition as well as a vehicle for my kids to tell their kids about their crazy dad and the food adventures that were spent together.
Traditions don’t have been elaborate, they just have to be. What traditions do you have?
Monday night, at 8 PM, and I scan the kitchen. There is one, another one over there, I find more in the fridge.
A couple of over-ripe bananas, and a soft tomato on the counter. A few slices of dried out delivery pizza, and a half-filled Tupperware container of homemade soup in the refrigerator. On the fridge’s door, I spy some milk that has gone bad. I take a look in our bread bin and come across a third of a loaf of very stale bread.
I gather my waste together for disposal. The milk carton gets washed out for recycling in mostly an ecologically symbolic gesture. The other items find their way into the garbage. Perfectly good food turned into waste. Do I feel bad or guilty about this waste? Sadly, no. I’m so used to throwing out food that my weekly kitchen purge yields about the same amount of emotion as cleaning the toilets.
On average Americans waste about 20% of all the food that they purchase, or almost a pound of food a day. This is in a world where about 800 million people are chronically hungry. In fact, the amount of food wasted in the US could feed 2 billion. That is a sobering number. Also, wasted food consumes 30 million acres of land and 4.2 trillion gallons of water to produce.
In general, all farming has an impact on the environment. Food waste has increased by 50% since 1974, and in fact, food waste now accounts for 19% of landfills. This organic material decomposes to produce greenhouse gasses that have a direct impact on climate change.
There is no good reason to waste food, yet I do it week in and week out. For me, there are a variety of reasons. Sometimes I will impulse buy an item and not like it. Other times I’ll make too much of something and grow tired of eating it. I’ll leave leftovers in the fridge because I have a taste for something else. I’ll forget that I bought something. The list goes on.
When I was actively working as a doctor, I didn’t really think about the cost of groceries. Now that I’m retired I am trying to change my food behavior. Eliminating food waste would put thousands of dollars back into my pocket every year. Money that could be spent in better ways.
I know that there are many simple things that I can do to achieve this goal. I should think about what food we have in the house to eat, as opposed to what I have a “taste” for. I should break meal stereotypes. Who says I can’t have leftover soup for breakfast or waffles for dinner? A cheese end can be added to a frozen pizza instead of being tossed. Stale bread can be made into French Toast. A soft tomato can be tossed into a pot of chili. These no efforts steps can go a long way in drastically reducing what food I discard.
Altruism can sometimes elicit a change in behavior, but cold hard cash is often a more powerful motivator. I would urge you to consider your food waste. A little planning and a slight change in behavior can help pay for a vacation, start a rainy day fund, or pay down a credit card bill.
I like routine, so these early weeks of retirement have been confusing and a bit scary for me. My life roles are changing, as our my time obligations. I am in a metamorphosis, but it is still unknown if I’ll emerge from my work cocoon as a butterfly.
My title of doctor has always garnished a certain level of respect from others, and over the decades I have gradually assumed that being treated respectfully was the norm. I know that many individuals don’t have such privilege, and my change in status has subjected me to people that demonstrate a lack of relational humanity. These experiences have been disturbing, but empathy building for me.
Case in point, dealing with Medicare.
Medicare charges good earners a significant penalty/surcharge based on that individual’s previous income tax (This surcharge is called an IMRAA fee). At the beginning of this year, I had to decide on my Medicare insurance plan, and I made that decision with the help of an insurance broker. I chose to contract with an Advantage program based on my general good health and the fact that we also needed to secure additional insurance for the rest of our family. Advantage plans tend to be less expensive than regular Medicare and they include Part D at no additional cost, or so I thought.
Based on my 2017 income tax Social Security charged me a substantial penalty for Part B of my Medicare insurance. I understood this and made my first payment last month. I then received notice that I was going to be penalized for not having Part D insurance when I turned 65 last year. I didn’t have Part D coverage because I had insurance through my employer. This typical scenario seemed to be incomprehensible to our government, and I had to fill out forms and provide proof that I was not trying to secretly defraud the USA…Gads!
Monday morning I received my April bill for my Part B. I opened up the envelope to find that it was over $200 more than last month. I was confused as it seemed like that Social Security placed me into even a higher penalty category, and besides, they were charging me for Part D. I immediately called my new insurance provider, and the customer service rep could only suggest that I call Medicare directly. I placed my call to Medicare and got the usual, “Due to the high volume of calls…” message with and a warning that my wait could be a long as 15 minutes.
I was on hold for almost 30 minutes before Latisha picked up. The name Latisha means joyful and happy, my customer service representative definitely did not fit that description. Latisha was outright rude, and her demeanor was accusatory and condescending. “We know how much money you are making because we are directly connected to the IRS,” she barked. She offered no information on how to appeal such a decision, or why I was now being charged for Part D. It was an alarming call which gave me insight in how people can be treated when the customer service agent has ironclad job security and no repercussions for callous behavior. After being subjected to her abuse, I said to her, “Latisha I want to inform you that I have agreed to take a customer satisfaction survey at the end of this call at which point I will clearly state how you have been treating me.” I could hear a bit of anxiety in her voice, and her outright condescending manner softened slightly. She is a person who should not be working with seniors.
Unfortunately, I am now stuck with a huge Medicare monthly payment and no known recourse at the moment. It disgusted me the way she treated a senior, and I can only imagine how she intimidates less secure callers. With that said, I was not about to let her rudeness dominate my emotional well being that day.
Tuesday morning at 4 AM my friend, Tom pulled up in his white Ford Flex. I donned my coat, slipped out the door, and climbed into his passenger seat; off we went. Tom stopped for gas and then pulled into a Dunkin Donuts and got both of us coffee. We were on an adventure as he was driving me to a favorite breakfast diner which was over 2 hours away in Wisconsin. His generous gift of time was a continuation of my 66th birthday celebration. After a delicious omelet, we traveled the 2 hours back home. Our trip symbolizing friendship and our willingness to take care of each other.
Now back home I had to deal with a concept new to me, open time. I have been busy most of my adult life, and I have always had to deal with a lack of unstructured time, not an abundance of it. There were things that I could do, but they were wants not needs. I started to feel guilty, as I now had free time while my wife, Julie had to work. In the past I identified with overworking, and in many ways my constant drive to accomplish things gave me validity. I tried to think of some major project to work on; I resisted that urge. I felt tired, and I decided to take a short nap. Thirty minutes later I awoke feeling refreshed.
I decided to tackle a fun project: How to interface my computer to a two-way Amateur radio. As is usual with such projects things didn’t go smoothly, but eventually, I was able to solve the connection problem and program the radio. There was a particular joy in having the time to approach the problem, take a break, and then resume. In the past, I would have focused on how to solve the problem as efficiently as possible. My new project timeline turned this activity from stress producing into fun. For me, there is nothing as exciting as learning something new.
After my radio adventure, I had another urge to be productive in an effort I to justify my lack of paid employment. Guilt was on the rise. The house was reasonably tidy, as I had cleaned it on Sunday. I put a few dishes away and swept the kitchen floor. It was then time to meet my sister, Nancy.
I pulled up to Panera Bread at 6:59 for my 7 PM meeting and met Nancy in the parking lot. We were restarting our weekly creativity night after a brief break caused by mutual travels and an unwanted upper respiratory infection.
Nancy was upset at the beginning of our meeting. Her feelings precipitated by a disappointment perpetrated by an acquaintance. This led to a conversation about people who we can depend on. For both of us, the number was small but reasonable. In the end, we concluded that we were both fortunate to have people in our lives who we could depend on, and even though our close connections didn’t consist of legions, their numbers were indeed more significant than what many others have. I suggested to her that she focus on those people who care about her rather than wasting energy wondering why a random unimportant person failed her.
We proceeded with our meeting of conversation and study as I munched on a half of a Cuban sandwich and a cup of chicken noodle soup. I was happy to re-initiate our weekly get-togethers as I enjoy spending time with my sister. It felt good to have this structure re-enter my week. At the end of the meeting I said to her, “Nancy, I have no idea what to write about this week.” She offered a few suggestions, but none of them rang true. I decided to write about my present state of mind, and that flow of consciousness is what I am inking on paper now.
This Wednesday morning I found myself questioning if I should go on my morning walk. It was raining, and I was still tired from my previous day’s adventure. Lacking a defined work schedule when I woke it took me a few moments to realize that it was Wednesday, not Saturday. I forced myself up and meandered to the bathroom to prepare myself for the day.
I located an umbrella and headed out the door. When I reached Starbucks, I ran into an acquaintance who had picked up his coffee and was heading out the door. “You’re late today,” he said in a joking manner. “Yeah, I guess the rain slowed me down,” I responded.
I procured a Tall Veranda and found my usual table at the front of the store. Out came my computer and earbuds and I started to type this post. I rarely know what I’ll type when I start this process, I just sit and let my fingers do the talking.
Tom and I had spent a lot of time together on Tuesday and I didn’t expect him to be at Starbucks today as he was working on a project that was geographically in the opposite direction of the coffee shop. Since I anticipated his absence, I had planned my morning accordingly. Tom used to have a habit of pulling away from me when he got too emotionally close. I am familiar with that pattern of behavior, as I have been known to do the same thing. However, we have both become more secure in our friendship and this pattern is now rare.
Some of the morning coffee regulars came up to me and engaged in conversation. Kathy stopped by to congratulate me on my full retirement and told me of a ski trip that she just took with her husband. John came up to me to also congratulate me on my new status. He is an executive for a large corporation who is dealing with the immense stress of being in such a position. We chatted a bit about my new life and his current work situation. I then continued to write this post, but soon it was time to return home.
I now sit at the Ram dealership as Violet the van’s instrument panel has been flashing me a request to have her oil changed. So here I am in the dealer’s showroom finishing this random post of an ordinary few days in the life of a retiree.
I have been awash to so many feelings over these last few days. Anger, at being treated as a non-person by Medicare. Guilt that I am not longer filling every moment with work for pay. Sadness, at my changing status from doctor to citizen Mike. Peace, as I am no longer responsible for the lives of others. Confusion, over what to do with my new found free time. Euphoria, over having free time to be confused over.
I am becoming aware of a need to expand my horizons. I much prefer having intense relationships with a few people rather than causal relationships with many. However, it would be unreasonable for me to expect those currently close to me to completely replace the social connections that I had garnished from my worklife. My experience this morning at Starbucks suggests that there are people out there who would be fine with spending time with me, and that the major limiting factor in this social regard is me.
My siblings have their own lives, my kids are busy with school and friends, my wife works, my friend Tom has a construction business to run. So where do I look to expand my horizon? I don’t necessarily need additional intense relationships, but I should probably explore more casual connections. Clubs, volunteering, social groups, all are possibilities. I am awash with both fear and excitement, and I’m OK with having both feelings. Onward, one foot in front of the other. Every day is a new adventure and offers the potential for personal growth.
It happened just about a week ago. I knew that it was coming, but I still was surprised. That’s the way life is.
My last day of work was anticlimactic. I was working from home and signed off my enterprise level conferencing system with little fanfare. My workplace had already had a reception for me the week before.
That was a Thursday, and I spent Friday gathering my thoughts, spending time with my friend, Tom, and packing for a mini trip to Arizona. Julie was taking me to Tucson to celebrate my retirement as she felt that a trip would be an excellent transition tool.
Early Saturday morning we arrived at Midway airport and started the arduous process of preparing to fly. Fortunately, we had pre-check, and we breezed through the TSA. I have to say that I don’t really like flying. I don’t have a fear of airplanes, but I find the whole process unsettling. Julie understands this, and we now arrive for flights with plenty of time to spare, which helps ease my mind. At 6’ 3” I am cramped in tiny airline seats and on two of our three flights I had big guys sitting next to me who did not understand the concept of personal space. In the past, I would try to squeeze myself onto the far edge of my chair to give them as much space as I possibly could. However, my attitude has changed. I don’t want to be even more cramped, and if they have no problem pressing up against me, then I have no problem pressing up against them. It is a dog eat dog world when you fly coach.
The actual trip was delightful. I have been to Arizona many times, but this was the first time that I was there during winter. The temperature in the mornings was cool, but by afternoon the temperature was a perfect 70F.
It was wonderful to visit with my Kathryn, who will be graduating college from the U of A in a few months. Julie got to attend a book fair, and I was able to wander with a camera in hand and photograph Tucson and the surrounding areas. It was a peaceful and delightful trip.
On my return, I helped my friend, Tom with a couple of things and spent several days photographing a house that he just finished building. Last Friday I was the event photographer for a daddy/daughter dance. Today (Sunday) I saw an excellent production of “The Producers.” As you can tell, I have been busy.
I don’t expect every week to be this hectic, and I’m learning to go with the flow. I’m lucky as I rarely am bored. I always seem to find something to occupy my time.
I’m still having dreams about work, and I still have not accepted the fact that I’m now on a permanent vacation. It is all a little frightening but in a wonderfully frightening way. Week two is now upon me, and I can’t wait for that adventure to begin.
“Do you want to do it?” I thought for a minute and said, “Yeah, I think so. You only live once, right?”
My campervan was mostly complete, and I had already had taken it to Colorado and Missouri on separate trips, but those trips were during warmer weather.
Tom’s son wanted to go camping sometime in January, and Tom was inviting me along. This would be more of an experience than an actual trip, and we would be spending only one night in the cold. The destination, Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin. Tom has a fondness for Devil’s Lake, it is a beautiful park; its centerpiece being the lake which is surrounded by high bluffs.
After Christmas Tom told me that he decided to go up on New Year’s Eve. I had a concern about this date as I thought that many services could be closed, but it sounded exciting and fun. Besides, we had unseasonably mild weather, so how bad could it be?
The other concern was my homefront. I knew that Julie wouldn’t mind me going on a camping trip, but on this one, I would be away from her on holiday. With that said, I’m usually in bed by 11 PM on New Year’s Eve. I’m hardly a party animal. I asked for her thoughts she said she didn’t mind it if I went.
My friend Tom had to work the morning of the trip, and he suggested that I go up early to secure a campsite. Tom imagined a party like atmosphere with the campground filled to the brim with happy campers excited to bring in the new year, and he wanted to make sure that we had a spot. Only one of the park’s multiple campgrounds is open year round, and that one didn’t take reservations.
Traveling the 3 hours to Baraboo WI solo was not an option for me. In the summer of 2017, we traveled separately to the same campground. I got turned around and wound up at a different site at the opposite end of the park. T-mobile cellular service at Devil’s Lake was almost non-existent, and it was nearly impossible for me to reach Tom. He had arrived hours earlier with both his son and my son. Eventually, we connected which is when I found out that all of the campgrounds were full. Exhausted from a full day of work and a drive to Wisconsin, I loaded William into my car and drove 3 hours home. It was not a warm and fuzzy memory.
I still have some finishing touches to do on my campervan, but it is functional. However, I had removed most of its storage boxes, as we were in the process of building out a large container that would reside under the camper’s platform bed. I debated if I wanted to return the contents to the camper. After all, I was only going for a day. At the last minute, I tossed the bins into the van. “Better safe than sorry,” I thought.
We left together, me in my campervan and Tom and his son in his 4×4 Dodge Ram dually. It was around 35 F, and it was lightly raining. We started our drive north, and the rain got progressively worse. I kept looking at the outside temperature readings on my Promaster’s dash. Thirty-five degrees, then 34F, then 33F, then the dreaded 32F. Thirty-two degrees, the point where rain turns to sleet. Thirty-two degrees, when the wet pavement turns to black ice. Initially, the van seemed to handle the change in conditions, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We turned off the Interstate and onto a county road. Google maps said we had about 26 miles to go until we reached the park. By that time the sleet had turned to snow, and it was coming down hard. We were on a 4 lane road (two lanes per direction) that was winding up a hill. I could see that Tom was having a bit of trouble as the back of his truck was wiggling. I could feel that my traction was also slipping. There was no option, so we moved on.
As we turned a curve, the traffic suddenly slowed down to a near stop. In the middle of the right lane was a sedan with its flashers on. I thought that the owner was having car trouble, but I wondered why he had foolishly stopped directly in the middle of the right lane. I drove a little further and saw another car in the right lane, its flashers blinking. Then another, and another. The higher I drove up the hill, the more cars I saw parked in the right lane. I could see Tom’s truck ahead. He was moving forward, but his Ram has 6 tires of traction. The sedan in front of me was lurching forward, sometimes sliding sideways, sometimes almost stalling. I could feel my traction failing, and I started to panic as I imagined having to spend the night in my van as it sat directly in the line of traffic. By some miracle, I made it up the hill, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The road narrowed to a single lane, and the snow continued to fall. It became impossible to determine if I was in the correct lane. I made a conscious effort to stay in the tire tracks that Tom’s truck made, using his four rear tires as my personal snow plow. I was in the middle of nowhere, it was getting dark, my van was struggling, I was feeling sick to my stomach. My doctor’s training has made me good at handling crises, but I was still feeling the stress. I willed myself to move forward.
Tom pulled into the broad entrance to Devil’s Lake State Park, and I followed. The road past the entrance went down at a steep angle and instinct told me that I should stay put. I told Tom that I was not going down. He felt that his 4 wheel drive could do the job and said that he would make the loop drive to explore the park and then come back to pick me up. He gave me an alternative route to the campground, just in case. Time ticked on, and I thought about the possibility of staying put at the entrance for the night. That option would certainly be better than getting stuck in the middle of a road.
Tom returned and said that my van would not have made it down and back. We took the alternate route to the campground. We traveled another quarter mile and took a right turn on an unplowed road with a slight incline. I could see that Tom traction was struggling again and I could feel my van straining. The only way I was able to move forward was by running my engine at 30 miles per hour. This constant acceleration moved the van at a jerking 5 miles per hour. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to stop as I knew that I would not be able to move forward again.
Although we only traveled a few blocks on that road, it seemed like miles. I’m glad that Tom was so familiar with the park, as I would never have seen the entrance to the campground. He pulled in, and I followed. The campground was completely empty, and its roads were unplowed and deep in snow. I thought, “Find a spot close to the entrance,” but he continued to drive as if he was looking for the perfect campsite. He eventually stopped, and so did I. When I tried to move forward again it was clear that I was stuck. Stuck in the middle of the road in an empty campground, and it was definitely getting darker.
I signaled Tom, and he said that he would loop around the campground and come up on my rear. I wasn’t sure what his plan was, but I was grateful that I wasn’t alone. He got back into his pickup and drove out-of-sight. My mind moved into solution mode, and various ideas and contingency plans flooded me in multiple data stream. I wondered if I could rock myself back then forward. I tried to back up, and surprisingly I was able to do this. However, I could not move an inch forward, as the road ahead was on an incline.
I got out of the van and scanned my surroundings. Despite the heavy snow, I could see the boundaries of level places, which were intended for the camper’s cars. I made some quick calculations and came up with a crazy plan to back up my van several hundred yards in reverse and then turn into one of the almost invisible parking slots. If successful I could take that move into a three-point-turn and point my van in the opposite (and downward) direction towards the campground’s entrance. I felt that I had nothing to lose.
I could feel my tires slipping as I started the backup, but I continued. I made another mental calculation and decided that I should be close to a flat spot and quickly turned my wheel to the right as I wanted to keep my momentum. The van tracked into a parking spot, and I had a sigh of relief. After a 10 second pause to catch my anxious breath I shifted the gear selector into drive and gently pressed on the accelerator. The van moved forward!
I was now going downhill and towards the entrance to the park. Tom was nowhere in sight. I could finally see the entrance, and then I saw Tom. He had been delayed because he got stuck and almost slid into a tree.
We were committed to camp, and frankly, we had no other options. Tom pulled into a spot, and I asked him if he would park my van next to his truck. I was exhausted and didn’t need any more challenges.
Tom had brought a wheelbarrow of firewood in the bed of his pickup, and he set about the task of starting a fire with a Bernzomatic torch. While he was doing this, I spotted the sites power pole and wondered aloud if the juice was still on. “They use GFI outlets, why don’t you check,” Tom said. I walked over and lifted the heavy metal shroud that covered the outlets. A tiny green LED blinked back at me. Being a good Eastern European type I had brought enough food for at least two days, now we also had power. I was jubilant. I opened the back of the Promaster and started to search the storage boxes that I had tossed in as an afterthought. Yes, here was the 30 Amp power cord, and there was the 30 Amp extension cord. In another box, I found the $18 little black electric heater that I bought at Walmart months earlier. I called Tom’s son to be my gopher, and in about 5 minutes I had AC power in my camper. I plugged in the little heater and turned it on. The temperature was quickly dropping outside, and I wanted to capture every BTU that I could.
Tom was busy setting up a tripod stand to hold the cast iron Dutch oven that he brought. In it, he had chunks of steak, onions, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. The fire was now blazing, and he was adjusting a chain that was supporting the Dutch oven. Lower into the flame for hotter, higher away from the flame for colder.
We had food, electricity, some heat, and a fire. I was content and my panic from earlier in the day had washed away. I was now in my 12-year-old boy mode and was feeling like a great explorer in an unknown wilderness. I asked Tom’s son if he wanted to go on an adventure walk with me. He did, our main discovery was that the pit toilets were unlocked! Now we could definitely weather the storm. I had a down coat from Cabela’s, my rubberized Bog boots, and a new pair of fancy Gordini gloves that Julie had given me for Christmas. On my head sat a red stocking cap. Over the hat was my jacket’s hood. The fire plus my outfit kept me surprisingly warm.
The three of us stood, then sat around the fire talking. Despite being an introvert, I have no problem talking to Tom for hours. With that said, I can’t honestly remember much of what we were talking about. That’s the way it sometimes goes with best friends, the contact is more important than the context. At one point Tom decided that he was going to pick up a bottle of wine to help me relax after my harrowing drive. Although I initially protested his plan, I eventually gave in. I am not much of a drinker, and Tom doesn’t drink at all, but he got into his dually and drove to a local gas station that had liquor service. I had seen a plow go down the street in front of the campground and I was anxious to get a road report. If anyone could navigate in the snow, Tom could with his 6 wheels of traction.
Tom return, and I opened the bottle with my Dollar Store corkscrew. I bought it for a $6 camper supply “buying frenzy” several months earlier. I poured some wine into a stainless steel camping mug and took a sip. We continued to talk. Eventually, it was deemed that Tom’s stew was done and he pulled the Dutch oven off the fire. I contributed some paper plates, bread, salt, and a black garbage bag. Not much of a contribution, but at least I felt the I was doing something.
There is nothing quite as delicious as hot food when you are standing out in the cold for hours. I felt like I was dining at a 4-star restaurant. I ask for and received seconds.
Tom’s son was starting to fade and wanted to go to bed. Tom set up a bed in the back seat of his truck’s cab and off he went. Tom and I continued to talk for several more hours as even a single glass of wine can turn me into a philosopher. At some point, I started to talk about the existence of God. Eventually, we both felt the need to call it a night. Tom set up a place in his truck for him, and I fluffed the blankets in my camper van for me. My Walmart heater was definitely warming the van, and I was grateful, as I knew that it was going to drop to 19F during the night. Bedtime, 10:30 PM on New Year’s Eve.
I can’t say that I slept perfectly, but I did sleep reasonably well. The morning came, and I could hear Tom’s diesel running. He started his truck at 2 AM, as the cold was beginning to make his feet numb. It was time to break camp. The firewood had done its job, and all of it had been consumed. Without the fire, we would have never have been able to spend hours the night before standing in the freezing cold
“Breakfast?” Tom said. “Of course,” I replied. It was now the moment of truth. Would the Promaster be able to navigate the snow and drive out of the campground? Tom backed it out, and then I climbed into the driver’s seat and shifted the gear selector into drive. I lightly, but purposefully, pressed the accelerator and the van moved forward. Down the snowy path I went. Soon we were back on the road that had been so treacherous the night before. However, it was now plowed and sanded. Off to Baraboo.
There is a little breakfast joint in Baraboo that resides in an old diner. The diner building was once located somewhere in New England. Apparently, it was disassembled and stored for decades in a warehouse in Ohio. It was discovered there and reassembled in Baraboo, piece by piece. The inside of the restaurant is in a classic diner style, replete with green vinyl upholstered booths and an abundance of chrome. We have eaten there in the past, and I knew that they served a hearty breakfast.
We pulled up to the diner, and I was happy to see that it was open on New Year’s Day. Inside we found an open booth, which was easy as only one other table was occupied as was one chair at the counter. Tom and his son went to wash their hands as the waitress came over. She reminded me of Flo, from those Progressive Insurance commercials. The back of her T-shirt proudly proclaimed, “Body By Bacon.” I knew I was in the right place. Tom and his son returned, and we placed our orders. Both of them ordered omelets. I went for eggs over easy and sausage links. By the time our order arrived, I was well into coffee, but I had to consciously control my consumption as I would soon be on the road. I didn’t want to have to stop every 30 minutes. We confidently noted that we were the very first people to use a campsite at Devil’s Lake State Park in 2019. We did this with the vibrato of Lewis and Clark explorers.
With our bellies once again full it was time to start the journey home, and after a few directional missteps, we were on the newly plowed and salted Interstate heading south. Tom called me and noted that he was going to exit as his son wanted to explore the sporting options at Cascade Mountain. I wished him well and drove on.
I made a call to Julie to let her know that I was safe and heading home. I traveled the rest of the trip in silence and entertained myself with memories of the last 24 hours. I was grateful that I brought the right clothes, enough food, and the right van equipment to weather the storm. I was thankful that I had traveled with my friend, Tom. He thought to bring some things, I remembered others. Together, we had enough.
The nausea of the drive in had long passed, and the pleasure of the trip was present in my mind. I don’t think I would have gone if I knew that I would have had to travel in a snowstorm, but that was behind me, and I was left with the sweet memory of a crazy camping trip where only three people filled a huge campground with their adventurous spirit. It was a great way to start the New Year and to kick off my impending retirement.
Oh, it’s a long, long while From May to December But the days grow short, When you reach September. When the autumn weather Turn leaves to flame One hasn’t got time For the waiting game. September Song M. Anderson-1938
We sit around the kitchen table. Julie, my wife. William, my 17-year-old son. Diana, my 3-year-old granddaughter. Sebastion, my 9-year-old grandson. Me.
In front of Sebie is a large stack of conversational cards. He pulls one and reads it. “If you could always live in your favorite season, would you?” We go around the table, and all participants answer, “No.” We agree that each season possesses its own magic. As we tire of one season, we are given the gift of a new one.
I pick up my sister Carol from her apartment and drive to Arrowhead Country Club to celebrate her 80th birthday with a Saturday lunch. We talk, nibble, sip, and talk some more. “I have never been happier. This is the best time of my life,” Carol says in earnest.
I walk to Starbucks in the pre-dawn. I pass by a tree, its leaves turning a golden orange.
The fall of my life is upon me, the days are growing shorter. Time is accelerating.
Would I want to go back to any other time in my life? Childhood? Early adulthood? Middle age? I don’t think so. Each phase of my life had its advantages and its disadvantages. Each stage of my life added to my wisdom and to my appreciation of the gift of life. I don’t want to give up the present to live in the past.
There are disadvantages to being 65. I have more wrinkles on my face than hairs on my head. My stamina is a percentage of what it was when I was 30. My short-term memory is less acute than in the past. I am more inclined to take naps.
There are advantages to being 65. I care less what others think of me. I am less concerned with what I don’t have and more satisfied with what I do have. I realize that most happiness lies in small things: dinner with my family, coffee with a friend, learning new things, giving back.
In January I left my private practice of 30 years and gained perpetual 4 day weekends. As a person who likes to move forward, I had developed a productivity plan in anticipation of this change. That initial plan has been only partially realized. Frankly, I’m OK with my partial compliance.
I am writing, taking pictures, and converting a van into a camper for future adventures. I have made a weak effort to organize a basement storage room. I’m not practicing the guitar, and I have not started the process of learning a foreign language. I think that this latter objective may be on a permanent hold.
I am spending a lot more time socializing with people who I care about. I am stretching my introverted boundaries. I am learning about construction and power tools. I know that this last fact may seem odd for an old retired doctor, but I assure you that it is not. I come from a blue-collar background, but I was never mentored in the art of the Sawzall. One of the reasons that I gravitated to science was that it was an entirely novel discipline in my family, and somehow that fact made it OK for me to teach the subject to myself.
There is a joy in learning those things that I was so curious about as a child. I see the similarities between medicine and construction. Each discipline requires training and practice. Each discipline follows a specific methodology and is protocol driven. However, with building the fruit of your efforts is immediate and tangible.
I have spent much of my life goal-directed; focused on practical knowledge. However, I appreciate learning something that serves no personal purpose in my life. Learning for the sake of learning is my cocaine.
At 65 my world isn’t shrinking, it is expanding. I wake at 4 AM anticipating what that day will bring. What will I see on my walk? What will I write? What new thing will I learn? What projects will I tackle? What adventures will I have with those people that I care about?
The days may grow short in the September my life, but they are still days to be celebrated. Today I know more than I knew yesterday. I have connected with others more. I have done more. Each day is a gift, never to repeat.
The date was set, we would meet at Starbucks at 7 PM. Not the Starbucks that I usually go to, but one on the far side of town. We had talked about this for months, and now we were finally doing it. At the very least it would be a fun adventure; I had nothing to lose.
I arrived at 6:59 and found a quiet table. I went up to the counter and ordered a Tall Pike’s, decaf. Moments later my phone rang, it was Nancy. She was outside the store trying to park her car, but the available spots were all blocked by a police prowler. The officer was apparently thinking that his convenience was more important than preserving three open slots for other customers.
Soon Nancy was sitting across from me, and we started to talk. First small talk, then more about what was going on in our lives. However, this chit-chat wasn’t the reason that we were meeting, our conversation was just a common preamble.
We reminisced and evoked memories from past years. Nancy, 7 years my senior, my friend, my older sister. We had decided to meet to explore our creativity. Like me, Nancy is a writer. Like me, she is trying to find her voice. Unlike me, she has studied her writing motivations though workshops and creativity groups.
Nancy tried to focus me. “What do you want to write? Fiction or nonfiction? What is your passion? Who is your audience? What is their age range? What topics have gotten you the most hits?” Questions that I never thought about.
So, dear reader, what is the purpose of this blog?
Drmikekuna.com was created as a writing exercise to see how far I could push myself in a public forum. As an introvert, I’m naturally reserved and private. However, to write effectively, I need to break through these limitations without fear of judgment from others. I also created this blog as a record of who I am. Eventually, I’ll download its contents onto a memory card and place it with other momentoes of me. Cards and letters that were written by patients when I left my private practice, notes from loved ones who wrote memories of me to commemorate my 65th birthday, and other things. I want my children and grandchildren to have a broader understanding of me. I want to be more to them than a few scattered recollections.
Like most things in life, my blog has evolved. It continues as a writing experiment, but there has been a shift. I now let my flow of consciousness take over as I write. It seems that my posts eventually evolve into some sort of life lesson. I find this new process interesting, but I have no idea if anyone else does.
I am trying to find myself, and redefine my purpose. My professional life has been a life or providing service to others, and I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to do so. However, I am entering a new season of my life, and my energy has shifted. I still want to contribute to the world, but I want to do so by engaging other talents. Specifically, writing and photography.
I need to determine what my goals are. Am I writing for an audience of one? Has my blog become a journaling exercise that would be better accomplished if it was done privately and within the confines of a spiral notebook? Should I abandon the blog and start the daunting task of developing a book? If so, what would my topic be? It is clear that my writing would reach a broader audience if I focused it on popular issues and selected demographics. Do I want to do that? Do I want to become more commercial in my writing? Would such a change remove the pleasure that I derive from my current spontaneous musing?
It is clear that I have just started this journey. I will meet again with Nancy next week as we continue to examine how we can support and help each other in our pursuits.
Dear reader, as I move into retirement, I am aware that I not only need to be flexible but also realistic. Grandiose ideas and plans can fuel the genesis of any new project. However, work, reassessment, and realignment are the real building blocks of growth.
Do you have goals and dreams? How are you approaching them? How are you redefining them? Let’s grow together!