The Call

It was a little after 5 PM on a Friday afternoon and THE WIFE and I were sitting on the front porch with THE NEIGHBOR and FLOYD SOLO when my phone rang.  My phone almost never rings, so I flipped it over to see who it was and then gave THE WIFE a raised eyebrow look.

“Hi boss.  What’s up?”

It was THE CTO. The man I worked for at THE BLUE COMPANY, and then followed to THE METER PLACE. The one who I work better with than anyone I’ve ever met, and the man who I have a fierce sense of loyalty to. The one who left THE METER PLACE a week before I did. The one who can make me see past my doubts and concerns about the things I’m not  sure I want in my job anymore because it’s different when we work together.

One of our last conversations at work was similar to one we had the day I resigned. That’s when he told me he was leaving, too, and was taking a new job in Austin. “Austin, you say? That just happens to be one of the few cities I’m willing to travel to. If you need my help, I’ll answer your call. I may not do the same for others, but I’ll answer your call.”

And my phone just rang.

Was this just a check-in? Doubtful. We’ve known one another for years and it’s great to talk, but that would be out of character. We exchange friendly texts, but a call to just check in on me? That seemed unlikely. So we chatted and I wondered if this was THE CALL. THE CTO was frustrated by being information starved. He was venting his frustration to his wife, saying “I need THE RETIREE.” She told him to call me. At worst, we would get a chance to catch up, which we did.

As he continued to talk I walked back out to the front porch, looked at THE WIFE and mouthed “It’s THE CALL.” He needs my help, and I’m willing to overlook at lot of my rules about work for this one individual. All told, we talked for about an hour. I told him we had a number of details to figure out, but I thought we could work something out. He told me he’d be back in touch.

While I waited for his next call, I made some notes. All told it was about a two page bulleted list of questions, some of them very pointed. But these are things that were important to me. If I’m considering going back to work, I need to know how the operations in India work and how the teams work together and how politicized the environment is and and and…..

I sent him the notes and he called me back a couple of days later. We had a great discussion, but then we hit a sticking point – he wanted me to move to Austin.  I told him that was a no go. THE WIFE has a great job that she has no intention of leaving, and I don’t see us living in separate towns. That’s just not who we are. So he challenged me. “How would a work remote situation work?”  We talked it through for a bit and he told me he’d think about it. I made a couple of points for him to consider. 1) My main contact in the Finance organization at THE METER PLACE was in Minnesota. In three years I only saw her face to face twice. 2) THE CTO and I often met via conference call with me sitting in his office and him in his home office three miles away. Being in the same room definitely helps, but we met remotely almost as much as we did face to face in our last 12-18 months of working together.

I started researching housing in Austin, both in terms of apartments and condos. If I might be traveling there two weeks out of the month or more, a home base made sense. THE WIFE and I discussed how to get a car to town and how to arrange all of the other details. It was all quite a bit to take in for a guy who was spending his days making sourdough, but it felt good to engage.

A few days later I spoke with a Senior Director at the company and we began working through the nuts and bolts of what the job might entail. Eventually I was asked what I saw the role being, so I wrote that up. At first I wasn’t sure why, but I eventually realized that they were asking me to tell them what I wanted to do so that they could see if that matched their needs. I wrote up a list that roughly was “here are the things that I’m good at and that I think I can do to help you”. After some more discussion they asked me to come up with a proposal, so I sent them a couple of options, both as a full time employee and as a contractor. I asked for a lot of things, some of them a little crazy, and I cut the travel back even more, suggesting up to 50% in the short term, but eventually settling down to about a week a month, and mostly to Austin.  After a couple of negotiation calls and emails, we came to an agreement.

So MY FIRST RETIREMENT is about to end.

stbernadusI had to give this a lot of thought. I’ve spent the last eight months learning a good bit about myself. I see what motivates me and I see what will make me work against myself. I have a new perspective on what I do and do not need to control, and what I’m willing to do in my interactions with others, whether that be in a job or in some other capacity.  Truth be told, I’m stepping back up to probably a higher level of stress and work than I was doing before, but I’m doing it on my own terms. Those terms just happened to line up with the needs of THE CTO. He’s probably the only person who could get me to consider work like this again, much less traveling for work, but he asked. I was prepared to do something less. Hell, I was seriously considering the bakery idea that all of you have floated my way. But, more likely, I was thinking about other technical or financial work, just in a diminished capacity from what I was doing in the past. Instead, I think I’ll be doing more.

So have I lost my mind? I don’t think so. I was in the incredibly fortunate position of not needing a job, so I was able to be totally in honest in what I asked for. I didn’t get everything by any means, but I was able to make the things that are important to me a key piece of the negotiations. Ultimately, I asked for the following: I want to do things that I’m good at that will help you. I want to be successful. I don’t want to do things where I am going to struggle. I’m not interested in stretch goals or career development or any of that. I want to do things I’m good at that you will appreciate.

It’s simple, but it sounds crazy to say out loud.

If you’re wondering if I have doubts about all of this, I do. I’ve been telling people that this is either the smartest or the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. The thing is, I think it’s probably leaning towards the smart side. It’s going to be a lot of work; possibly more than I’ve ever done. But I see the chance for it to be very fulfilling, too. And isn’t that what I’ve been after all along?

The next question is what does this mean for My First Retirement? I don’t see the blog going away. I’m actually rather interested in how the transition back to work, the remote office arrangement, and the travel will all play out. I think it could be worthwhile to see how all of the things I’ve thought about for the past few months will apply in the working world. Plus, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not going back to work for ten or fifteen years. This is a focused, shorter term assignment to set things up for THE WIFE and me so that My Second Retirement is the final one.

So I guess it’s time to start the next phase of the adventure.



The Gardens

I don’t volunteer.  Well, except for our local ArtFest, and that’s largely because the entire town gets involved with that. It’s not that I won’t show up when called, and I’m more than happy to help a neighbor in need, but I’m just not someone you’ll find distributing blankets at the local homeless shelter.  Perhaps that makes me a bad person. Perhaps not.

Yet there I was, standing in the parking lot of the local middle school, waiting for the intern to arrive. We had an appointment to look at the student gardens.  She had drawn up a plan for irrigation using low pressure lines, drippers, and rain barrels. These are all things I’d dealt with before in my yard and in my garden, so I was somehow deemed qualified to provide advice to the students on how to water their garden.  When I asked THE LADY NEXT DOOR why she thought I should talk to the intern, she said “Well, you seem to know more about this than I do.”

Hmm.  She had a point there, but that didn’t make me feel qualified or anything.  Still, I had the intern send me her proposal for the garden irrigation plan and I looked it over.  I saw some good things and I saw some mistakes, so I gently provided feedback.  I may not be a garden expert, but I’ve reviewed a few proposals in my time and I could definitely provide feedback on something like that.

I was worried that I needed to be an expert.  I was worried that I needed all of the answers.  Then the intern got out of the SUV her mother was driving and I realized that this was a 15 year old girl who just needed some advice about how to water a garden with rain barrels. She had all of the experience of a middle schooler, not some expert. She didn’t need someone to try to prove her right or wrong.  She needed help with basic concepts like “If you’re going to rely on the rain barrel and gravity to water this bed, the rain barrel needs to be higher than the bed or it won’t work.”

IMG_0033We walked the gardens for about 30 minutes and she toured me about. The setup is really quite magnificent for a middle school. The students and volunteers are doing great work with the land. We talked about basic things like the height of the barrels and the length and size of the hoses they might use. One discussion centered around why a 3/4″ hose with holes in it probably wouldn’t deliver water to a bed 50 feet away, but a small low pressure hose with drippers might.  I suggested that she test the hose sizes and lengths and perhaps create a color-coded chart to show the performance differences.  That’s the kind of thing you can learn from, but you can also use it to get extra credit in classes.  We also talked about how to bury clay pots and use them as cisterns and how she might want to integrate that into her plans.  Then she showed me beds where they were raising plants from seed using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. It was something I’d never seen before and I was truly excited about using that technique at home.

A half hour flew by and she asked if she could send me her updated plan to review once it was done. I said “Of course! Please do!” And I asked her to keep me apprised of how things were progressing. I also offered to come back again if she needed more help.

Did I just volunteer for something and enjoy it?

The garden experience got me thinking about mentoring. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some really good mentors throughout my career, and some of them have come from unlikely sources. As I considered my time with the intern it occurred to me that I truly enjoyed giving advice and helping her figure out some of her problems. And then I caught myself doing the same thing a few days later in a discussion with THE NEIGHBOR’s daughter. We were deep into a discussion about how she was addressing certain issues at work and I found myself saying “well… you might want to try phrasing that a little more like this….”

I think I’d like to be a mentor for someone. I mean, it’s not like I’m brilliant or anything, but I have experience. And sometimes sharing that experience is all it takes. Maybe I don’t dislike volunteering. Maybe I just need to find the right kind of thing.




February was a blur.  Truth be told, most of January was, too.  We wrote and recorded an album, and it’s a good record.  I’ll be sharing it more widely soon, but it was a lot of work.  More than I thought it would be.

One of the things I was most looking forward to in this stage of My First Retirement was having the time to actually fully focus on my music for the RPM Challenge record in February. I suspected that getting what I wanted would be a double-edged sword, and I was right.  I had far more time to work on things, but that raised my own expectations, both for myself and for those working with me (sorry, guys…).  All told I think I put in 120-150 hours of work recording, mixing, and performing on the record during February, and that’s not counting the 40-50 hours of work I did in late December and January. It became my job.  I would get up in the morning, go for my run, do whatever needed to be done around the house and/or set up some bread to bake, and then I would head to the studio.  I would work in 60-90 minute stretches and then take a break before starting up again. By late afternoon I would have logged four hours or more of studio time and I would need a mental break, so I would go for a walk. By the end of the month I was running 2-3 miles in the morning and walking the same each afternoon.  I needed the walks to clear my head.

2016-02-10 15.17.58I’ve long held the belief that the eight hour work day is nonsense once you reach a certain point in your professional life. People can’t focus for that long, much less for ten or twelve hours, and there are plenty of studies to back this up. Truly, outside of 3-4 hours per day of actual productivity, most people are filling up the rest of the day with “work”; some of it useful and some of it just being busy for the sake of appearances. I feel the same way about what you do on your own time, too, and the 2016 album reinforced that belief for me. I could have worked longer hours, but the return on investment would have been greatly diminished.  I wouldn’t have achieved much more, but I would have just frustrated myself and been even more tired. Realizing that and maintaining that awareness went a long way. I very rarely was still working on anything by the time THE WIFE got home each evening, and if I was still working, I wrapped it up quickly. We were able to go out to dinner for Valentines Day. We went out of town for her birthday. There wasn’t a cloud of doubt and pressure hanging over me for the month because I knew what to expect from myself and I focused on only working when I thought I would be productive.

Just before starting up the project I reached out to one of my former collaborators in Canada. THE CANADIAN had sung or played on all of my albums from 2010-2014, but dropped out in 2015 because he didn’t feel like he was “plugged in” enough to the project.  One of his complaints was about a lack of communication, so he could end up in a situation where he worked on something for quite a while only to have it cut out of a song.  That made sense, and while I had tried in the past to involve him as much as possible, sometimes his work or life schedule made it hard to keep an open dialog about what we were both doing.  When he decided to re-join the group in 2016, I decided to try to do something about it.  After all, that brought the total number of band members up to four, not counting any outside contributors, and none of us were on the same schedules, much less the same town or state.

THE WIFE suggested that I use a project management tool called Trello for the album project, and I’ll have to admit, it worked great.  We had a series of checklists and tasks for each song, as well as some message boards for larger topics.  We had assignments for parts (Bob plays the guitar solo here, Tom will play bass on this song, etc.) and people had the ability to add or remove themselves from different tunes, so if someone suddenly came up with new backing vocals, they could add the part to the checklist for the song and mark it as done.  It gave us the ability to see how the individual songs were progressing, not to mention how the project as a whole was going. It definitely solved our communication issues, and it made it easy for me to set priorities on what I needed to do next.

It also gave me something to manage. It gave me a team to lead, and a project to see to completion. And it was interesting to watch myself re-engage with that part of my personality and skillset.  Which, of course, got me thinking about whether it is time to do more of that.

I finished my record. I learned how to bake sourdough bread.  I’m more relaxed.  Does that mean it’s time to think about going back to work?  Possibly.  I’m not in any hurry, mind you, but I can see a time where I might re-engage, if only for a while.



The RPM Challenge

On January 20, 2010, I signed up for The RPM Challenge. Little did I realize what a huge impact it would have on my life.

I’ve been a musician for most of my life. I took some piano lessons as a kid and I learned to play acoustic guitar when I was in high school. I wrote a few songs here and there and learned a few cover songs over the years. In college I bought a 4-track cassette recorder. I didn’t do a lot with it, but I always envisioned myself as a recording musician. Not as a profession, mind you, but as a hobby.

In February of 2009 I loaded up GarageBand and tried to learn how to record myself singing and playing. I wrote a blog post at the time that ended with “Neither version is particularly good, but I had fun.”  And that sort of summed up what I was doing.

In March I posted this:

I purchased a refurb Mac Mini for the studio and have been setting it up over the past few days.  I think it’s going to help me a lot to have a dedicated system in the studio (a term I use loosely since it’s really just an extra bedroom with a couple of guitars and a mixer).  I’ve been testing things out and I think I’m going to be quite happy with the Mini

I began re-interpreting songs by my friends in the band Sha-Pink.  Their songs are…. odd, to put it gently.  Here’s an example:

By July I had recorded four of their songs, which they featured on their podcast (or “Oddcast”, as they called it). I think that made me a Sha-Pink tribute band.

So there I was – learning how to record and working away on cover songs. Then January 2010 came around and I sent an email to Darrin from Sha-Pink.

Convince me I need to participate in RPM2010.  It scares the hell out of me, and I have no idea how I can do it, but… I think I have at least three songs I can flesh out already.

He wrote back quickly:

You have to do it because it’s WAY FUN. Who cares if you don’t cross the finish line? Less than a third of the bands do.
If the sun rises tomorrow and Letter 17 is not registered to participate in the 2010 RPM challenge, the dead shall walk the earth in search of fresh tasty brains. You don’t want to be responsible for that.

He was right. I didn’t want to be responsible for the zombie apocalypse  So I signed up.

In the first 15 days of February I wrote 13 songs, 11 of which appeared on my eventual album. I learned that I could write. RPM2010I also found an amazing community of supportive people who would read my blog posts about my new songs and give me encouragement and feedback. One person reached out to me and asked for the tracks to one of my acoustic songs. He sent it back to me the next day with layered background vocals.  Another time I made a comment about how listening back to one of the songs I’d just written made me feel like a real musician. I received a response of “That’s because you are a real musician.”

On Sunday evening, February 28, I packaged up my completed CD and mailed it off to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I had completed The RPM Challenge.  On the morning of March 1, I handed a CD to THE WIFE and she finally had a chance to hear what I had been working on all month.  You see, not only had I not written many songs over the years, THE WIFE had only heard me sing a very few times.  And here I was handing her a music CD with 35 minutes of original music on it.  She listened on her drive to work and wrote to tell me that she liked it and was proud of me.  I surprised her.  I also surprised myself.

I’ve now participated in six RPM Challenges, and I’m about to start number seven. I’ve met and worked with people from around the world, from a guitarist in Spain to a bass player in Canada. I’ve sung along with lovely ladies in Cornwall and Texas. I’ve worked with people in San Francisco and New York.  I made friends with a drummer at work and we formed what we actually call a band, although I still don’t sing in front of others. We’ve since added another vocalist and guitarist from Phoenix. And remember that guy who added backing vocals to one of my songs the first year? He’s recorded with me nearly every year, singing and playing keyboards. He lives in Canada. We’ve never spoken to one another, but we’ve worked together on music for years.

So that all makes for a fine story about how I found a musical community, but that’s not really what this is all about.  RPM fundamentally changed me.  It took me from talking about what I wanted to do to actually doing it. My signature on the RPM forums says it all:

I wrote 5 songs in 25 years. Thanks to RPM 2010, I wrote 13 more in 15 days and used 11 of them for my album. My wife had heard me sing maybe 3 times in 17 years. Then I released an album. So I basically went from zero to 60 in a month.

And it’s true. I also gained a level of self-confidence that I previously lacked.  Why yes, I AM a musician. Seeing the look on people’s faces as I hand them a CD is always interesting.  “So, wait.. this is real?”  Yes.  Yes it is.  They smile and snicker a bit, but invariably I receive an email in a day or two telling me how much they enjoyed my record.

Is my band The Beatles?  Are we going to sell hundreds or thousands of records?  No on both counts. Honestly, if we sold ten I’d be thrilled beyond belief. But I’ve given away a few hundred CDs over the years and I’ve amused people with some songs about donkeys.  I’ve also found an artistic outlet and a way to follow my passion.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

The RPM Challenge is meant to get artists creating art. RPM stands for Record Production Month. The Challenge is to record and release an album of at least 10 songs or 35 minutes of new, previously unreleased music during February, the shortest month of the year. If you can also write all of the music during February, that’s even better, but it’s not a requirement. Will you release Sgt. Pepper’s?  Probably not. But you might surprise yourself by what you create.

If you’re a musician and you’ve always wanted to do something like this, sign up for The RPM Challenge.  Don’t be scared.  We’ll help you. You’ll might end up with a record. Or you might end up with something more.


Gap Year

We walked to town last night for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We like to sit at the bar as we know the bartenders and a good number of the wait staff, plus the owners nearly always swing by and we get to say hi to them, too.  But the main reason we like to sit at the bar is for the other people. Nearly every time we meet someone new, interesting, and fun. Last night was no exception as we met Rajib.

We were chatting along pleasantly when we reached the inevitable question: “So what do you do for a living?”  As usual, THE WIFE and I both chuckled as she turned to me (as always) and said “Yeah… what DO you do for a living?” When I told Rajib that I was temporarily retired he lit up. “That’s great! I’ve taken a year off three times in my career so far!”

Did I mention that he’s the CEO of a $100M+ company?

We proceeded to have a really great discussion about priorities and the concept of really understanding what is important to you. He recommended the book The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, which he basically distilled down to “no one ever went to their death bed saying ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’.”

I’ve been reading about the Adult Gap Year, which is apparently more common than I thought. It’s what I’m experiencing right now, even if I’m not so sure it will go on for a year.  Truth be told, I figured I’d be back in the job market by now, but I’m not, and I don’t have any immediate plans to do so.  Why, you ask?  Good question.

  • I DON’T HAVE TO GO BACK:timandgidge I was concerned that financially I would be required to go back to work sooner rather than later. I was wrong, although I’d certainly be happier if the stock market would play along with my long-term projections a little better in the short term. Still, I figured that we would have to cut back on savings, which we haven’t beyond what I was contributing to my 401(k). While I would certainly like to have those dollars going towards retirement right now (I’m a big fan of dollar cost averaging, so down markets are buying opportunities), I can live with investing a little bit less now than we were before.
  • I’M JUST NOW SETTLING IN: I’m in month five of this retirement and I’m just now hitting the rhythm I thought I would have back in September. I’m baking more (and better!) bread, working from my own sourdough culture, and I’m spending significantly more time on my music. I’ve moved from “inept” to “not very good” on piano, which is a huge step forward. I’m also running more regularly and I’m becoming a better cook.  These are all things that are both comfortable and comforting.
  • I HAVE AN ALBUM TO WRITE!: February is nearly here, so it’s almost time for The RPM Challenge, where I (along with a couple of band-mates) record an album of new, original music and release it at the end of the month. I’ve done this for the past six years and I’m really looking forward to this seventh time around, particularly since I have a new lead guitarist and second vocalist to work with now. The idea of facing RPM without the pressure of squeezing it in via two hour blocks in the evening and all-day marathons on the weekends is really freeing. Plus, THE WIFE is looking forward to seeing me throughout February, including on Valentine’s Day and her birthday.
  • I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO: This is the big one.  I can get another job, whether it be financial or technical. I’m certain of that. The question is, since I don’t HAVE to do those things, do I WANT to do them? Right now the answer seems to be “I think that doing the things I’m good at are a good way to have someone give me some money.” And that’s all fine and good, but if I don’t HAVE to work, will I want to be someplace for 40+ hours a week? Currently, I don’t. I could do something for a shorter period of time (a consulting engagement of a few months) or something more permanent with a more flexible/shorter schedule (30-ish hours a week, or maybe less?) and be happy, or I could step down into something with a lower level of responsibility than I’ve had previously. I could also just punt the whole thing and do something strange  like open a bakery (that’s highly unlikely, by the way). I’m still waiting for some bit of clarity to arrive, but I’m not counting on anything.

When I started this whole “First Retirement” journey I was encouraged to take at least six months, off and I’m starting to understand why. You need at least some of the time to figure out the lay of the land and to figure out how to operate. It truly has been wonderful to unburden myself from years of corporate stressors held deep in the recesses of my mind, but it’s also been great spending time learning what the proper consistency of a good bread dough is when you hold it in your hands.

How long will this go on? I really don’t know. So I’ll keep moving forward as I am until something tells me to change.





The Bread Crumb Incident

2016-01-02 17.33.48I made a beautiful couple of loaves of bread the other day, but managed to leave the salt out of them. It was a new recipe from a new book and I skipped a line in a paragraph.  It happens.  I’m just glad that I noticed it before I posted a picture to Facebook asking if anyone wanted a loaf.

Today I decided to make lemonade from the proverbial lemons and turn the bread into seasoned bread crumbs. THE WIFE has some great herb salt that would really make the bread crumbs come out nicely, plus everything would be homemade.  Double bonus! I broke out the food processor and began grinding away. I quickly realized that I had more than enough bread to fill two large cookie sheets while still leaving a good bit of bread for the backyard birds.  As is my custom, I consulted the interwebs to see how to best prep the crumbs – 300 degrees for 20 minutes to dry them out. Easy enough.  I can do that.

But this is THE RETIREE we’re talking about here.

It was all going so well until I decided to rotate the pans.  As I lifted to lower pan I clipped the edge of the shelf (the large cookie sheets are new and are much larger than my old ones), flipping the sheet over, depositing equal amounts of bread crumbs on the floor, and on and around the oven door.

After muttering a string of profanties my meditative mantra I took off for the garage to grab the shop vac. It cleaned up a good bit of the mess on the floor, but I began to smell something burning. It was crumbs in the door, which was still open. Luckily, I have a second, smaller shop vac that has a crevice attachment. I grabbed MINIVAC and cleaned everything up. All told, I lost about 60-70% of the crumbs as the pan I flipped had more on it than the other one, but that’s probably okay as it was A LOT of breadcrumbs.

When I took the shop vac back out to the garage I decided to empty it out. I didn’t need bread crumbs molding inside the vacuum. I loosened the lid on the vac and saw that it was quite full.  Apparently I hadn’t emptied it in a good while, so I dumped it over into a trash can and…. unleashed a huge cloud of dust, filling the shop. Oh yeah… last year when we had a neighborhood cat bless us with a litter of kittens in the basement, she also brought us a flea infestation, which I treated with diatomaceous earth. If you’re not familiar, it’s powdered silica and is similar in consistency to flour, except that it dries out most anything it touches.

So now I’m dusty, dry-skinned, and rather annoyed. So what to do at this point? I figured I might as well go all in, so I grabbed the blower attachment, turned on the air compressor, and blew all of the dust out of the shop vac filter.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out where that ended up.

I put everything away (after blowing some of the dust off of myself), walked back into the house, and sat down to write this post.

It’s days like today that I think about posting my resume to job sites.



Perseverance And A Hacksaw

I am not particularly handy. I’m not inept, and I’m more than willing to wield a tool or operate a chainsaw, but many of my attempts at supposedly simple repairs go horribly awry.  Back when we used to podcast regularly we had a segment on the show called the Manly Task Of The Week.  The theme song included someone saying “OW!” It was appropriate.

That brings me to Sunday night when THE WIFE noticed that there was water under the sink. I’ve been baking a lot of bread and using a number of large food service containers lately, which means I’ve been washing a lot of food service containers and filling up that side of the sink regularly. I noticed that the putty around the strainer basket seemed to be developing gaps, so when she saw the water I was pretty sure that the basket needed a new bit of putty.

On Monday morning I did a very wise thing. I looked up YouTube videos on how to remove the basket and how to properly apply putty.  After a few videos, I pretty much had it down – remove a small nut on the bottom of the basket, then turn a much larger one on the top, possibly using a large wrench, and take everything apart. From there I learned a couple of tricks about how to apply the putty, plus I read what amounted to a holy war on a plumbing website about the merits of putty versus silicon. In short, I did my homework. I went out to run some errands and picked up some putty to come back and start the job.

The bottom nut came off easily, but when I attempted to remove the upper retaining ring the entire basket turned. Yep – the putty was definitely gone.  No problem, I thought.  I’d just do what they did in the videos and grab the basket with one hand and break the ring free with some channel locks.

I’m sure you know how that worked out.

After fighting with the ring and three different wrenches for about 30 minutes, I became convinced that 1) the ring was fused to the threads, and 2) the people on YouTube are either magicians or liars.  Still, this is about par for the course for a Manly Task, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. I sprayed some WD-40 on the threads in hopes of loosening up the locked ring, and I headed to Lowes.  I needed a really big set of channel locks and a new strainer basket. Even if I could get the parts apart, chances were good that I wouldn’t want to reuse them.

About 20 minutes after getting home and continuing to struggle with the ring, I texted the husband of THE NEIGHBOR (hereafter known as FLOYD SOLO). He walked over a few minutes later and we tried each grabbing a wrench to see if we could make any progress.  All we really accomplished was verifying that the ring was fused to the basket.  FLOYD admitted defeat, and I contemplated calling a plumber when he suggested I call our favorite handyman. I rang up THE HANDYMAN and he told me he could be over in the morning. “I’ll get it off, even if I have to cut it off.”

Now I had a plan.  Sure, we couldn’t use that side of the sink for the night, but it would be fixed tomorrow.  And I still had all of my fingers and no major bruises or other wounds.  Honestly, that’s a pretty successful TASK for me.

But still… I wondered if I could get the ring off. I headed to the garage and found my dremel and some cutting disks.  I put on some goggles (Norm always told me that was the most important piece of safety equipment, after all) and tried some cuts to see if I could cut the ring loose. It was working, but my hand slipped a couple of times, creating some stray cuts. I became concerned that I might slip and damage the sink, plus it just felt slightly unwise and unsafe.

That led me to one more video. One featuring a hacksaw. I’m not even going to link to this one – I’m just going to include it. It’s short and the guy is basically channeling how I felt at the time.

2016-01-04 16.26.08I headed to the garage, grabbed my trusty hacksaw, and decided to give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose? THE HANDYMAN was just going to cut it out anyway.  So I got to cutting and… it was actually pretty easy. I only had to cut through the threads, which were thin.  It took about 15 minutes, but pretty soon I was done. I called THE HANDYMAN back and told him what I had done, then verified that 1) putty was the right choice, and 2) the slightly different type of strainer basket I bought was okay. He told me I was right, so I got to work.

After all of that, it took about five minutes to install the new basket. Honestly, it took me longer to clean up than it did to install.  I ran a few water tests, re-connected the plumbing lines and everything actually worked. MANLY TASK COMPLETE!

2016-01-04 16.54.04So now’s the part where I’m supposed to have some sort of great, deep philosophical point to make. And… there really isn’t one.  I was patient. I accepted that things were going to go wrong.  I asked for help when I needed it. I validated my assumptions. I was willing to admit that I wasn’t going to complete the job successfully, but then I found a way to do it anyway. So maybe there is something here after all. Perhaps all of this time off is making me ever-so-slightly more patient and measured.  And that, apparently, is a good thing.

But maybe that’s not the point.  When I cut the strainer loose and then eventually finished the job I texted the two photos in this post to FLOYD SOLO. His response:

Sometimes perseverance and a hacksaw win out

Yeah… that seems like a better lesson.





Seasonal Decor

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about my retirement situation is the time it affords for things that used to feel like a chore, but are now actually fun.  Case in point – holiday decorations.  I have a long-standing hatred for decorating the house and I’ve finally clued into why.  It has always been an exercise that has taken away evening or weekend time.  That left me feeling as if I was having time stolen from me, even if that time was just going to be used to sit on the couch and surf the internet.  But this year is different.  I have the luxury of time combined with a decided lack of pressure.  I’ve also been fully in-charge of what goes where as THE WIFE has been far too busy at work to do much more than come home and say “good job, honey!”

So I set about decorating.  I found a 100 foot roll of C9 LED lights (think old big colored lights from the 70’s, but with LEDs so they don’t use $200 of power in a month) in the garage and set about lining the front ontheroofporch.  Once that was complete, I stepped back and looked at the house and knew what I had to do.  For the first time in my life, It was time to put lights on the roof.

Our house is pretty much tailor made for Christmas lights. It has a wide front porch and a great roof line just begging for decorating. I went outside and surveyed the house, then broke out the high school geometry and attempted to figure out how many feet of lights I would need. (Anyone who ever tells you he’ll never use the Pythagorean theorem or the word “hypotenuse” after tenth grade is delusional – they came in quite handy.)  THE WIFE and I both measured and calculated our own way and came up with roughly the same lengths, so I was reasonably confident that I could buy the right amount of lighting.  After that, I reviewed the clips and saw that they very easily attached to the end of the shingles. This was going to be easy!

At this point, those of you who know me well are probably holding your collective breaths, but everything worked out fine! I put the clips and lights in place and successfully climbed down from the roof thanks to my ARCH RIVAL (aka, husband of THE NEIGHBOR) and his extension ladder. I then ran one more line of 2015-11-29 17.54.24lights back across the front of the house (completing the triangle) and had just enough lighting left to reach the ground. My math had been right within a couple of feet!

When THE WIFE and I stepped out to the curb that night, she was excited. It was then that I realized that she had never had Christmas lights on the house like this in her entire life, and it was something she had always wanted. Aside from a few icicle lights on the front of the house in the 90s (remember when everyone had icicle lights?), and a couple of other half-hearted lighting attempts, we’d never successfully done much more than put a tree on the front porch, and she certainly hadn’t grown up in a house covered in lights. It made me happy to realize how excited this made her.

2015-12-05 16.12.47Once the house was lit up, I decided to start working on my snowman. Last year I made some balls and a few other shapes in the yard out of chicken wire covered in lights. They were interesting and fun, so I decided to raise things to the next level and build a snowman. I found an old tomato cage and roughed in a blob of sorts out of wire, eventually  rounding him out a bit until he looked a little like a snowman. From there I added four long strings of extremely bright white LEDs and an old scarf to make him look a little more snowman-like. Eventually THE NEIGHBOR came over with a hat for him and we added a carrot for the nose.  And suddenly there was a snowman.

The next day I decided to jazz things up a little and added a string of blue lights to accent the scarf and a string of red lights to show off the hat. This did two things: it made the scarf look great, and it made it look like either the snowman was actually an ice cream sundae, or he was wearing a beret.  I knew what I really needed – a top hat.

2015-12-05 17.58.46I ran out to the party store the next day and found a top hat, which was much bigger than the previous bowler hat Frosty had been wearing. Then inspiration hit me – I didn’t need to wrap the hat in lights; I needed to fill the hat with lights. That meant poking 70-odd holes in a brand new hat that cost more than all of the other materials in the snowman combined. So I got to poking.  And poking. And poking. First with an ice pick, then a screwdriver. Then, when the holes still weren’t quite right, a bigger screwdriver. Ultimately, it took me about two hours to get the holes and then the lights into the hat, but once I did, it looked right.

From there, I realized that 1) the carrot wasn’t visible in the night, and 2) I was going to have to replace it 2015-12-08 19.30.34every 3-4 days.  Luckily, my local Target has some ornaments on sale. I had already created a garland-like string of ornaments to hang across the railings on the porch, so I figured I could to the same in miniature for eyes, nose, and a mouth. I tied everything in place, and then I waited for dark. And… it worked! Frosty looked great, and thanks to the bright white lights, he’s visible from the street. And possibly from space.

So here we are, at roughly 1000 words in, and this is the place where I try to come up with some sort of lesson or moral to wrap things up. Do I have something? Yes. Yes I do.

I found great satisfaction in something I used to find to be a chore, and I had a lot of fun working on the decorations across a number of days. Did it feel like work?  No.  Was it?  Well… it was a lot of effort, but it was also a lot of fun. So why the change?  First off, I didn’t feel like my weekend/evening time was being stolen by an activity. This was something I had time for. Secondly, it made THE WIFE very happy. She could see how much fun I was having and she was able to get the decorations she wanted without having to do the bulk of the work on her own.

So does this mean anything for me going forward? Is it something I should consider or try to change about myself? I’m not sure, but it makes me think about how we all approach work and time. When the job felt like additional work on my time, I didn’t like it. When it was a significantly greater effort, but I controlled how and when I could do it, it was fun. And that’s probably a takeaway.

Oh my – 80’s jumpsuits!

But Isn’t Every Day A Vacation?

THE WIFE and I took a vacation over the Thanksgiving week, visiting beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. It was a wonderful trip full of fun, food, and sights; plus we were able to connect with some old college friends. All in all it was a great time.

charlestonBefore we left, I wondered how the vacation would feel. I figured that the vacation time would be different as THE RETIREE.  After all, isn’t every day a vacation when you are retired?

Yes and no.

As I’ve stated more than a few times, I’m actually busier now than when I was working. I’m less stressed and my schedule is completely different, but I’m far from bored. I spend my time running errands (post office trip today – CHECK!) and helping neighbors (THE CHEF needed a drink shaker and THE NEIGHBOR needed a jump start) while working in the occasional lunch with people like THE FORMER BOSS. And that’s all before I mention the list of Christmas decorations I’m supposed to be putting up…

But when you’re not working, what are you taking a vacation from? Daily tasks?  Your normal routine?   Those don’t seem like that big of a deal. Who needs time away from that?

Everyone, that’s who.

The vacation was a break from the normal daily ins and outs, but it was also a chance to get THE WIFE away from all that she has been dealing with at work. So part of the joy of the trip was watching her relax and enjoy herself.  But before you paint me as a selfless saint only concerned with her well-being, the trip was also good (and important) for me. It was a different type of decompression.  It was that feeling you get when your biggest concern if choosing a restaurant or figuring out where the ice machine is in the hotel. It was the act of walking the streets of the historic district and taking pictures. It was laughing along and reading bad lines in a comedy play. It was learning more about tea than we ever wanted to know. And it was finding ourselves eating octopus while sipping fancy cocktails on a culinary tour.

So it was everything that being home isn’t, and it was accessing that part of the brain and that set of experiences you don’t have sleeping in your own bed. And that’s good. You may think of a vacation as a chance to just not be at work, but it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to do the things you find interesting and fun, but never quite devote enough time to when you are home. And that, once again, is something to add to the list of things that should be important as part of everyday life. Is there a way to work some of these experiences into either my retired life or my next work adventure? I don’t know, but it’s worth at least considering.

So, yes, you can go on vacation when you are retired. And it still counts.

The Frug

As I thought about what to write this week, I realized that I didn’t have an overriding theme to talk about, but I did have a scattershot set of ideas floating around. Some are serious, and others are not. If you were hoping for some great bit if insight from me (HA!), this probably isn’t the post for you, but hopefully some of you will enjoy it.  And now, on with the show…

  1. I don’t like cleaning the house.  That’s not to say that I don’t like keeping things clean – I’m actually pretty fastidious about keeping most of the kitchen clean. It’s the act of dragging a vacuum and/or mop around the house that’s just a bit much.  I truly think I underestimated the size of the house, even though I’ve lived here for fifteen years.  Cleaning this place is a big job. No wonder we were paying someone to do it.  And, after some discussion with THE WIFE, I’m about to embark on a search for someone to do it again. I can keep things tidy, but someone else can do the big cleaning every couple of weeks. It’s up to me to make it work within the budget. This I can figure out….
  2. You can buy a lot of favors with bread.
  3. I’m mellower in general than I was a few weeks ago, but I find myself getting more upset in traffic. Now, mind you, the things that tend to upset me are people driving on the wrong side of the road as I approach an intersection, or drivers who won’t pay enough attention to a light to actually move within the first 5+ seconds of it turning green, but still…One of the things I actually changed the most about myself when I started meditating was how I responded to traffic. I think that’s an area to focus on again.
  4. People like chocolate chip cookies, too.
  5. Lately I’ve been thinking about my former co-workers and how very few of them have made any attempt to contact me since I left. THE BOSS, who I left in enough of a lurch that he would have every right to not want to talk to me, has been a notable exception. Still, beyond him, I’ve only heard from 3-4 others. I went through a lengthy and intense period of feeling very isolated and alone in my final few weeks at work. I often wondered if it was because of the location of my office (I was hidden away in a corner – something I asked for), or if I had alienated people. The alienation is a definite possibility, but I don’t think so. I think it’s more a case of me uncovering the shallowness of co-worker relationships. I don’t mean that the people are shallow or the relationships are disingenuous; it’s just that your work “friends” often aren’t your real friends. I had hoped that wasn’t the case, but I think it is. That’s sad, because I worked with some good people.
  6. I need to reach out to more of my former co-workers.  Streets run two ways.
  7. I’m starting to play the piano a lot more. I’m still not sure what I’m doing most of the time, but I periodically sit down and both look and sound like I can actually play. I’m learning my chords and I’m starting to get to where I can read a bit of music, but I still just mostly play by ear. I’m having fun with it, and it’s a very meditative act. It requires a single focus, so I often feel refreshed after playing for 15-20 minutes.  Just don’t ask me to actually play something you would know.
  8. I was part of a promotional film/commercial last week. It was great fun, mostly because it was something new and interesting. That, and I had a chance to meet some new people.
  9. The tiller runs better if it has the proper amount of oil in it.
  10. I’m no longer obsessed with filling my day with activities, but I still stay far busier than I ever thought I would be. My father told me I would get bored.  He was wrong.
  11. Given enough practice, a person can learn to fold a fitted sheet.
  12. I’m shocked by how much enjoyment I get out of baking bread. I’ve slowly been perfecting a recipe, baking two loaves every four days or so. I keep one and give one away (see #2). I truly find it to be one of the most fulfilling parts of my week.
  13. As a general rule, people don’t choose to play bass. People end up playing bass.
  14. I’m still running regularly, but I’ve changed my style, taking up a system called Chi Running. In short, you lean forward a bit, keep the line between your shoulders, hips, and ankles straight, and land with your feet under you. Basically, you fall forward and catch yourself rather than pushing yourself forward. You also tend to use your core muscles more rather than just your legs.  My form is still a mess, but it seems to be working and it is supposed to help with injuries.
  15. I like to load up my truck and drive to the recycling center. Throwing boxes in dumpsters or shredding huge piles of paper is fun.
  16. My instinct is to always saute my garlic. Yesterday I followed a recipe for garlic mashed cauliflower that included minced garlic. I followed the recipe instead of my gut. For the record, raw garlic is really spicy, particularly when paired with something like cauliflower. Also, when I try this recipe again. I’m going to throw one or two little red potatoes in with the cauliflower. I think it will help with the consistency.
  17. I have no core strength.  Not I have very little core strength. I have none. See the bit about form in #14.
  18. I’m almost 200 albums into the Rolling Stone Top 500 Album list. I’ve skipped a number of albums and moved on a few songs in a good bit, but I’ve run across a few surprises, too.
    • I really liked the 1969 album “Boz Scaggs“.
    • Alice Cooper and “Weird Al” Yankovic sound very similar. I wonder if Al has ever covered Alice.
    • I’ve listened to a lot of Jackson Browne so far. I thought it would bore me. Actually, it hasn’t.
    • I am incapable of listening to more than three songs in a row by The Pogues.
    • I still don’t get Brian Eno. Or P.J. Harvey.
    • Oh Lord… I think I’m still going to have to try to listen to something like 10 more Springsteen records. These first few have not been good. Seriously – does anyone really like “The Rising”?
    • I didn’t like Eric Clapton’s “461 Ocean Boulevard”, but I quite enjoyed “Slowhand”.
    • Much like Springsteen, the Rolling Stone guys are obsessed with Bob Dylan. So far all of the albums have been from the mid-90’s onward. I don’t get it. These are not good records. Luckily, the Dylan records I like are on the way…
    • I survived the 80’s without ever listening to ZZ Top’s “Eliminator”. I sort of regret that now. It sounds a bit dated, but it’s a pretty good record.
    • I should have started listening to LCD Soundsystem a long time ago.
    • I’m not down with the Wu-Tang.
    • I’ve pretty much hated the Beach Boys my entire life, but I hear so much music that I like and the roots of so many things I listen to today in the “Smile” Sessions. Maybe it’s just Mike Love I hate.
    • I finally reached my first Rolling Stones record at #357 with “Between The Buttons“. As of now, I still don’t like The Rolling Stones.
    • I tried listening to Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” a few years ago and didn’t like it. I’m not sure why, because I really enjoyed it this time around.
    • Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett – just say no.
    • Talking Head’s “Stop Making Sense” is followed by Lou Reed’s “Berlin” and Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”. I couldn’t make it through either of the last two. Berlin is just painful to listen to and Meatloaf is just bad musical theater. At least it wasn’t acapella. I really dislike acapella.
    • I’ve made it up to #323 – “Ghost In The Machine” by The Police. I see Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” is coming up soon.  Things are improving…
  19. A former coworker texted me the other day to congratulate me on my “new gig”. It ends up that I had to add my first job out of college to my LinkedIn profile in order to establish a link with someone I used to work with. I bet my friend was wondering why I had taken a job as a staff accountant… This uncovers something I was slightly concerned about. I updated my resume a couple of weeks ago and I feel like I should do the same to LinkedIn, but I’m not sure I want that attention right now.

Well now. I didn’t think I had anything to write about and suddenly I’m at 1500 words. I guess I should discuss music more often! Lacking any theme for this week I’ll still leave you with a video. This one has no deep meaning beyond being one of my favorite songs ever. And I, too, cannot do The Smurf.