Labor Day

            Labor Day Weekend already. The year is flying by. A year ago, I was counting the days until retirement. Now I can’t believe how many days it has been since I retired!

            On Labor Day, I can’t help but think back on the jobs I’ve had over the years. For the most part, they were labor. Blue collar, dirty hands, in-all-kinds-of-weather jobs. Noisy, messy, smelly—and that was just me! Most of them have been outdoors, working on golf courses and doing grounds work. I’ve also worked in a large power plant, done some stints in retail, been on a snowmaking crew at a ski resort.

            Just last night, my wife and I were talking about how some people seem to know what they want from an early age and have enormous success while others never seem settled, many struggle through life, some have success in their field but don’t have happiness. We pondered what it is that causes those experiences. Is it the person’s personality, their upbringing, encouragement—or the lack of—from parents and others? How is it that one person sits at a piano at three years old and seems to already know how to play while another never finds the place in life that feels like it’s theirs? Why do some people always find themselves at the right place at the right time while others never find themselves at all? I don’t have the answers to those questions.

            Life is filled with potential and possibility and determined by the choices we make. It’s also filled with excuses, justifications, rationalizations, fear of failure, the need for security, and a whole lot of other things that get in the way. And, yes, I’m speaking from experience. It’s easy to look back and say, “if that person had been more encouraging,” or “if that circumstance had been better,” or, “if I had spoken up at that time, boy, would things be different.” It’s easy to say those things because I don’t have to actually prove things would be any different or any better had any of those things occurred.

            I can also look back and know I found a place that suited me—many places, in fact. I liked my work, I worked hard, I did a good job. There’s not a job I’ve held that I am ashamed for the quality of work I did. Even those jobs I didn’t like. Sure, there’ve been times I could have done better. But for the most part, I’m happy with my work.

There have been many positive evaluations, a few lunkhead bosses, an interesting cast of characters with whom I worked, lots of laughs, the occasional blowup, and uncountable times of looking on a completed job with a satisfied smile.

            So, on this Labor Day, I can look back on my years of labor with gratitude, contentment, and the sense of a job well done. And, now that I’m retired, maybe just a bit of, “whew, I’m glad that’s over!”

The Visit

            My brother and sister-in-law tried to tell us, but we paid no attention. The snickers behind the words of warning should have told us everything we needed to know. We brushed it off. Dismissed it. Said, “It will be fine.” Then it happened. My niece, her husband, and three children ages 10, 9, and 5 arrived for a visit. They were on their way home from a Disney vacation in Florida.

            We don’t have children. We’re used to adults, adult activities, adult homes and furnishings. We’re not used to having children around; not used to thinking about what’s on a table or low shelf that could be at risk, what could be used as a projectile. We’ve never had to give thought to slopped food on couches, crayon drawings on tables, grubby handprints on every wall.

“I won’t tell you twice,” is apparently a thing of the past. When we were young and our parents said, ‘no’ or ‘stop that,’ it meant something and would be backed up by some unpleasant consequence if ignored. I heard the words ‘No’ and ‘stop that’ more times in those three days (Wait, was it only three days?) than I’d heard in the decade previous. And they were ignored. Every time. With no consequences.

            Don’t get me wrong. They were good kids. They were just kids. Kids being kids. Kids accustomed to kids’ homes and furnishings, to seeing walls as blank canvasses, to thinking every cabinet, closet, and drawer is meant for their investigation. Kids for whom every room is the dining room. Kids who thought doors were supposed to be slammed as they ran inside and back out 1000 times a day. They were just being themselves.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting white-knuckled in my chair, a teeth-clenched smile plastered on my face, trying my hardest to not be the grumpy old geezer who only knows how to yell and point my finger and put an end to their fun, all the while attempting to have a calm and civilized conversation with the oblivious parents—and hoping the top of my head won’t blow off.

I hope the glee I felt when they said they were leaving an evening earlier than expected didn’t show on my face. They had decided to drive home overnight and miss the traffic. I also hope they didn’t hear my bellow of relief as they were rolling out the driveway. The reality is, I love them all and am glad they stopped for a visit—though, it’s interesting how that love seemed to grow as the taillights faded into the night.

They called the next day to say they had made it home safely, to thank us for our hospitality, and to tell us how much fun they’d had. They mentioned something about another trip and stopping by again for a visit; said they’d let us know when that was going to be.

Darn, I think we’re out of town that week.

What’s Cookin’?

            If it was up to me, I’d get rid of every cookbook in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking, especially baking, but between cookbooks, recipe boxes, and recipes cut from magazines and shoved into notebooks and folders—most of which sound good but will never be made—it’s too much clutter. Of course, there are favorites that get saved, but for anything a person could want to cook or bake nowadays, there are recipes online. You simply search what you want to make, and fifteen million possibilities come up.

            Unfortunately, many of those recipes are on cooking blogs. While the recipes sound good and the pictures look appetizing, you often must read through the bloggers life story to get to the actual recipe. Many a promising recipe has gone untried because I didn’t have the patience to read through the too many pages of commentary leading up to it.

            I must not be the only one who feels that way, as many blogs now have a place you can click to ‘jump to recipe.’ However, to make up for that convenience, you now have little advertisement windows that pop up in the middle of the recipe. You’re trying to read through the ingredients while chasing those stupid little windows away. Not once have I noticed what was being advertised. Only that it was annoying to have to go through that when all I want to do is find a new zucchini bread or try a different salmon recipe.

Then, when you think you’re finally at the end of those little windows, a whole page pops up saying “sign up for our newsletter . . .” Why would I want to do that when it’s so annoying to use your site? Goodbye!

            Maybe I’ll hold onto the cookbooks—for now.

Yard Works

            Part of my inspiration for downsizing is that now that I am retired and have the time to take care of the yard, there are things I’d rather be doing with my time than taking care of the yard. We live in a rural neighborhood with large lots. We have at least an acre just of lawn to be mowed. That’s the easy part. I still have the large mower I had when I had my lawn care business.

However, there are other areas around the property that I keep the grass, weeds, and undergrowth knocked down, but that can’t be mowed. I have to use a string trimmer. There are always tree branches to be trimmed, mulched areas that seem to attract weeds, garden areas that grow grass better than the lawn, shrubs in need of trimming—the list goes on. I’ve worked on golf courses and groundskeeping most of my life. At times I feel like I’m working harder at that now than I did before I retired.

            From where I sit, the morning sun shows brightly on grass that needs mowing, flowers that need deadheading, a baby pine tree that has popped up within carpet juniper, and crabgrass that has established itself in cracks in the sidewalk.

I know it’s only been a few months since I retired, but I imagined swinging a golf club, not swinging a string trimmer; of wandering a beach, not chasing a mower; of dozing in the afternoon with a good book, not collapsing at the end of another day of yardwork.

            In my downsized dream, my yard is small enough to require only a few swipes with a push mower—self-propelled, of course, and just a little string trimming. The whole thing would take, maybe, half an hour. The mulch beds surrounding the house would contain only a few slow-growing shrubs. And there would be a couple of tiny gardens—maybe with plastic flowers, so they would always be colorful and wouldn’t deadheading.

            Better yet, maybe I’ll just hire it done.     

Downsizing

            Lately, I’ve been in downsizing/decluttering mode. Maybe it’s that being retired and at home, I see all the stuff we’ve collected over the years. It’s not that we’re hoarders, there’s just a lot of stuff we never use. Beside our own stuff, we have an in-law suite attached to our house. My mother-in-law lived with us for 13 years. She’s no longer with us. She had her living room, bedroom, and dining furniture, along with all the cook ware, pictures, and knick-knacks that go with a house.

We’re not getting ready to downsize any time soon. In fact, we’re just getting our house to where we’ve wanted it for years. It would be nice to enjoy it for at least a week before we move. That being said, I don’t want to wait until we’re ready to downsize to dispose of all the clutter. You don’t realize how much stuff you’ve accumulated until you think about having to move it. By the time we’re ready to sell and move, I want to have that part of the process done.

Decluttering would be easy if it was just me. I’m not emotionally attached to any of it. There are a few pieces I’d keep, but between sales, donations, and trips to the dump, I could get rid of almost everything, then start over at the new house.

My wife has different ideas. Apparently, she doesn’t relish the idea of spending our final years in this house sitting on folding chairs in the family room, watching a TV resting on top of a couple of packing crates, eating from TV trays, or sleeping on that foam mat we used to use camping.

            We have agreed to part with some of it. There’s a large consignment sale being held in a couple of months that we’re joining in on. It’s an annual thing held in a former department store space. We’ll take the excess furniture to that sale. At the end of the sale, we can either take back what didn’t sell or donate it to certain charities. While I’m all for supporting charities, I hope everything sells.

Meanwhile, in an extra room of the house, we’re gathering all the small stuff we’re ready to part with for a spring yard sale. There are at least a dozen boxes there, now. More will follow. Most of them have enough space I can sneak other stuff in when no one is watching.

The real challenge will be going through my own stuff to see what I can part with. I have no problem wandering through the house and pointing out all the stuff I’d get rid of. Doing the same in my garage/shop—that’s a different story. I need 18 sets of pliers, 43 screwdrivers, many of them the same size, four or five sets of wrenches, ratchets, and sockets, uncountable drill bits, and all those coffee cans filled with hardware, some of which I can’t even identify.

How am supposed to get by with only one circular saw, reciprocating saw, or hand drill? What do I do with all those small pieces of board I’ve saved over the years because, “someday I might need a 6” piece of 2 x 4?” And what about all those half-finished projects collecting dust? Do I just throw them out after putting the time into half completing them?

Whoo-boy! Suddenly, this downsizing doesn’t seem so easy.

Legacy–Or, That Will Leave a Mark

            With retirement, the subjects of pensions and Wills and beneficiaries raise thoughts of legacy. What is my legacy? What do I want my legacy to be? How do I want to be remembered? Will I be remembered?  Will anyone care that I’m gone? Or will I be like that portrait hanging in an antiques store that’s in a nice frame, but no one knows who the person is?

            We don’t have children to leave things to. No one to argue over our estate. No sons or daughters stopping by to drop subtle hints about what they’d like should something happen. So far, the nieces and nephews aren’t suspiciously buddying up to us. We never hear from our godchildren. (Do I sound like an old person? “We never hear from so and so.”)

Of course, the estate is only one type of legacy. Much—if not most—of our legacy is intangible, such as the effects we’ve had on people during our lives. Family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. We’ve all touched uncountable lives. Some in big ways, some in small ways, some in ways we don’t even realize. We’ll never know how different things would have been if we had not helped this person or guided that person, spoken up or held our tongues, stood up or stood down. A simple kind word or gesture, forgiveness, love, patience with people we’ve encountered during our lives could have had a major effect—as could an angry word, forgiveness withheld, hatred, impatience, judgment. Even seemingly insignificant moments can have a ripple effect.

            When I look back, it seems I more easily recall some of the dumb things I’ve said and done over the years, rather than my better moments. Some still make me cringe when I think of them. Maybe it’s that in a life filled mostly with good moments, the bad ones stick out because they were comparatively few and far between. Yeah, I like the sound of that. I am hopeful I’ve done many more good things than bad. I hope my presence in this world has had more of a positive effect than a negative one.

            As I reread this, it sounds like I’m ready to check out. Not yet! I intend many more years to ponder life, look back and cringe, look forward with hope, and generally make a nuisance of myself. I’m still working on my legacy—whatever that may be.

            In the meantime, though, I will be keeping an eye on the nieces and nephews.

Family and Friends

            It’s been five years now since my father passed. My mother needed a memory care facility. The house was sold, and my parents’ most personal items were brought to one of my brothers’ homes so we could go through it together.

            I thought about many things while going through the remnants of my parent’s home with my brothers. Among them was that my wife and I have no children to leave such a task to and that the closest family is many hours away. My three brothers each have children. Someday, those children will have the fun of determining what’s best for their parents and having to go through their stuff.

            Besides that, having no children means there is no one to look in on us in our waning years. No one to check on us. No one to see if we’re eating or sleeping or breathing. No siblings to argue with each other about whether we should be in assisted living or to drive crazy by telling them, “I want to die at home.”

            I also don’t have a large social circle. Meeting new people, speaking with strangers, making small talk have never been among my strong points. The few friends I have are dear, there just aren’t many of them—and most of them are my age or older.

            With all that in mind, I can’t help but wonder: what if everyone I know goes before me? What if I’m left alone? I don’t want the final event of my existence here on earth to be a 9-1-1 call from a neighbor reporting an awful aroma coming from my house along with the comment, “. . . and I haven’t seen the old guy who lives there for a couple of weeks.”

            Maybe I should learn to be a little more social; try harder to make a few friends. Perhaps some a bit younger than me. Just in case.

Wingin’ It

            My morning walk was interrupted the other day when I got the text from my wife, “OMG, there’s a bird in the basement.” There are two sets of French doors going from our basement onto a patio. She was preparing to paint the trim in the basement and while taping around one of the doors, a bird flew in. She didn’t even know it until she heard it flying against the glass of the other door. I was still about ten minutes from home.

            When I got home, she was in a panic. The bird was hidden somewhere. My first action was to cover the doorway leading to the upstairs of the house with a sheet, so if the bird took off, it wouldn’t go into the rest of the house. Then, I searched every room in the upstairs to be sure that hadn’t already happened. Finding nothing, I returned to the cellar, where the elusive bird still had not made its presence known.

            There is no ceiling in our basement and there’s a gap between one of the stud walls and the block wall. We feared the bird may have gotten into that space and couldn’t get out. We weren’t anxious to have a rotting bird inside the wall perfuming the house. I went to the garage and got a step ladder tall enough, then spent the next few minutes climbing the ladder and sticking my head between floor joists to shine a flashlight into the gap between the walls seeking the bird. Not there.

            We went throughout the cellar banging on joists, knocking on ductwork, and shining light into every nook and cranny in the hopes of rousing the thing but nothing showed. Then, while my wife made another round through the rest of the house, I shut off all the lights in the basement and stood quietly. I thought with all the ruckus, maybe the bird was scared and not moving. Perhaps if it was quiet, it would show and fly to a window.

            My wife returned to the basement having found nothing upstairs. We stood quietly for a few more minutes waiting. Still nothing. She told me at one point before I got home, she had opened both doors on the side of the basement the bird was last seen, then stepped back to give it a chance to fly out. After a couple of minutes, she feared another would fly in, so shut one of the doors. She didn’t see any movement.

            After banging around the place for a while longer and still finding nothing, we assumed that when she opened the doors and then stepped away, the bird had flown out and she just didn’t see it. They can be fast. We ended the search. She went back to taping and I went off to do my thing.

A few days have passed. Still no bird, but no aroma of decaying bird flesh, either. The sheet remains hanging in the doorway, just in case.

’22 In Review

Part 6-the final look back

            In the final years of my father’s life, he was on a bunch of medications—like 17 or 18 different meds. Most were for various ailments he was dealing with; others were to counteract the side effects of some of those medications. Some he had to take a certain amount of time before eating, some a certain amount of time after eating, some in the morning, afternoon, night. I think for some you had to be facing East and standing on one foot . . . I don’t know all the requirements.

He had a clipboard with a chart where he would record blood sugar and BP, then watch the time, fill in when he took the med, then calculate when he would take the next one, when he could eat, how long he had to wait, etc, etc. It seems like the better part of his day was spent calculating his next dose. One time while visiting, he wrote his numbers in a block on his chart, then looked at me and teased, “someday this will be you.”

            Once we were back home from Florida and I had recovered, I began my weight-lifting and cardio routines again. I wasn’t surprised I had to start with lower weights than what I lifted before, but I was surprised by how much. It didn’t help that my workout routine had been a bit scattered during the winter before I got sick. Then the illness and recovery took weeks. We had work done in our basement, which is where the workout equipment is, making the equipment unavailable for a while. Add to that my appetite recovery and overindulgence and, while I wasn’t Jabba the Hutt, I wasn’t in the shape I desired, either.

            I’d often heard that to keep up with a workout routine, you had to enjoy what you were doing. I had always enjoyed walking and running, so that was no problem. However, in my younger days, I’d never have pictured myself lifting weights. Now, I so enjoy it. I look forward to my workout days. I’m excited when I can add weight to the bar and still lift it a few times. I love watching the numbers increase—the weight, the reps, the sets. It makes me wonder just how far I can take it.

I’m still working to get back to the level I was a year ago, though I’m getting close to those past highs. My intention is to meet and push well beyond them. I look forward to the day I max out what I have and must buy more weight plates.

I’m not looking to be a professional weightlifter, to compete, or to wander the beach kicking sand into the faces of skinny weaklings. I can’t even imagine myself on stage in a skimpy bathing suit, shaved and oiled, flexing for a bunch of people. I do like being strong and healthy and flexible. And, as I’ve said before, part of my motivation is to show that age does not have to equal decline.

            My father was part of the inspiration for me to do what I need to stay healthy. He had to deal with a lot. I think of him often while I’m working out. And it turns out he was right, at least partly. When I finish a routine, I go to my clipboard with my chart to fill in my numbers.

’22 In Review-Part 5

Re-Retired

            During the last months before I retired, I wondered if I might like to work just one or two days a week, rather than retire completely. It would get me out of the house, around other people, and put a little spending money in my pocket. Before I had a chance to inquire about that possibility, I ended up with COVID, and spent my last working days home sick.

            Recently, the opportunity presented itself. My former boss texted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing a project. I had never been taken off the payroll, so it would be like I was still working there.

I met with him at one of the ball fields where the project was putting metal roofing on two dugouts. The frames were already in place, all that was needed was to install the metal panels and trim. I was told I’d be shown what had to be done, I’d have someone to help, and all the materials and tools would be provided and on site.

            It sounded like a good thing. A short project—I figured a few days—and I would get out of the house and do something different. This would give me the chance to see if working a little was something I wanted to do. I was told there are other projects that needed doing, including other dugouts that need roofs—if I was interested.

Day one, the supervisor took me to a ballfield to look at dugouts that had already been roofed so I could get a feel for what had to be done. He had done the roofs on those dugouts. We then went to the ball field where I’d be working to see the materials and to be shown how to install the pieces. Each panel had to be trimmed with metal shears and creased in a certain way, then installed on the frame, squared up, screwed in place with clips, and the ribs where the panels overlapped had to be crimped. By the end of the day, I had been trained and gotten a few panels installed.

Okay. I can do this.

            The following day I got to the site ahead of the fellow working with me. I prepared ten panels so all we’d have to do was install them. Once he got there, we got into a routine, and the work went along quite nicely. We got all the panels on that dugout. The last panel on the first dugout came up a bit short, but I had been told I’d end up with a partial panel at the end.

            I called the supervisor after completing the panels, as he had to show me how to put the top and side trim pieces in place. He said he’d have a piece fabricated for the end that was short. When we completed the trim, we moved on to the next dugout.

There was a roll of adhesive we had used on the first roof. The supervisor called the company that provided the roofing materials to obtain another roll of this adhesive. The person asked how he was using it, as he shouldn’t have used a whole roll on one dugout. He explained what we were doing. That was when we found out some of what we had done on the roof of the dugout we had just finished—and the two roofs that he had been done previously—were done incorrectly. He shrugged and said to me, “oh, well. It works. We’ll just continue on.”

            Day three, I informed the supervisor that we didn’t have enough clips to complete the roof. He blamed me for that. We installed what we could.

            Day four, clips were procured, and the job was completed. The panels came out perfectly on that frame. I called the supervisor to tell him I was done and how it came out. He suggested that I had made a mistake on the first roof, with the panels coming up short. I parked the truck, put the tools away, and was done.

I didn’t mind the work and it was a good experience for me. I had never done metal roofing and I like learning new things. I was reminded what it was like to spend my days working and how much time that takes. Most importantly, I now realize how much I like retirement and appreciate having the time to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.

When I was done, I pondered the experience, then added up my hours and applied the hourly rate to that number. I decided there is no way my time is worth so little.

            I’ve re-retired.