Filling My Days

I’m now in my fourth week of temporary retirement and two things have become quite evident:

  1. I’m still not slowing down.  If anything, I’m becoming more and more busy.
  2. I’m spending far more time alone than I expected.

Let’s break those down.

I keep a pretty regular schedule. I wake up around 7, make sure THE WIFE is awake and has her coffee set up, then I go out for a run. Once I get home, I clean up, make breakfast, and (more often than not) head to the front porch with my coffee and computer. I’m still working through the course on Python, which I’m enjoying quite a bit; particularly now that it has actually moved beyond extreme basics. (As as side note, I’ve learned that I have little interest in things like base 2 numbers, and even less interest in things like bitwise operations. It just all feels like unnecessary busywork…) The coursework usually gets me to somewhere beteween 10 and 11 AM, during which time I’m witness to all sorts of traffic drama at the corner in front of the house, ranging from large trucks lost on the wrong street and unable to turn to multiple near-collisions when people refuse to stop at the signs. At this point, I move on to some sort of household chore or project.  Sometimes it is cleaning. Sometimes it is re-sanding and sealing the butcher block table.

That brings me to my afternoons, which I’ve found revolve around food and food preparation far more than I ever thought they would. I find I need to run to the store for one or two things nearly every day, which is good because it gets me out of the house.  I guess I shop like a European now, mostly because I can.  Once I return home, I dig in and start cooking (or baking). I’ve had both successes and failures thus far, but I’m learning to improvise, which is probably good. I made chicken and rice soup in the pressure cooker yesterday, but I didn’t really follow a recipe as much as ideas from 3-4 recipes.  When the broth still looked too chunky, I used the immersion blender, knowing full well that I was about to chop up the rice, which would thicken things considerably. Regardless, it was quite tasty, but that gave me something new to try today. I now had filling for chicken pot pies! So, despite my frustration (and considerable cussing), I seem to be about 50/50 on success and failure. THE WIFE tells me that’s pretty good for one month.

Getting back to the schedule, I’m usually done with food by 4:30 or 5:00, at which time I make my way back to the front porch with my Kindle and my music (I’m up to #403 on the Rolling Stone list, so Lynyrd Skynyrd is up next). A little after 6:00 THE WIFE gets home and I finally have someone to talk to! Which brings me to my second point: I’m spending far more time alone than I anticipated.

I really don’t mind the time alone.  Honestly. It’s helping me clear my head, and I think it’s making me friendlier with the people I do spend time around. That being said, I’m probably going to have to make an effort to get out a bit more.  Now, it’s not like I’ve been a complete shut-in. I’ve met friends for coffee and lunch. It’s just that I can easily get wrapped up in my own projects and suddenly the day is gone and I haven’t spoken to anyone who won’t respond to “kitty”.  Partially, I think this is a good test for how I might handle working from home (better than I thought), but it also underscores my need to be at least somewhat social.

Now I just need to figure out how to do that without resorting to something unseemly like volunteer work.

Musical side note: I adore Lydia Loveless and can’t recommend her last album Somewhere Else highly enough. If you like this song, get the record.  (as always, that’s an affiliate link.)

 

Enchilada Rage

I decided to cook something new. A friend had suggested a great enchilada recipe which utilized the pressure cooker. Perfect, I thought.  It would be something new and THE WIFE had been encouraging me to try out the magic of the pressure cooker, so here was my opportunity.

I loaded up the pressure cooker and began cooking away. I set a timer for fifteen minutes and waited for the indicator to pop on the cooker. After about twelve minutes I saw that the indicator was up, so I let things go for another minute or two and then approached the cooker to release the pressure (anyone out there see the problem yet?). I used a towel to turn a release valve on the top and let some steam escape, and unlocked the top.

I opened the cooker and began taking the chicken out when I noticed that it wasn’t cooked through yet.  Yep – I set a timer when I began heating the cooker, not once it was up to pressure. Okay – no problem.  Chalk that up to a rookie mistake. I put the chicken back in and cranked the heat back up. After 10 minutes or so I noticed that the button hadn’t popped on the cooker. As I looked around the other side I realized that I could see the seal.

DAMMIT. I didn’t have the lid on right.

I loosened the lid and proceeded to try to position it correctly, but try as I might, I couldn’t get it right. I also couldn’t put my hand on top of it to help because it was HOT. I took a deep breath and was deliberate and focused, but the lid just didn’t want to cooperate. Finally, after close to five minutes, I got it on correctly. Once I sealed the top, the button clicked almost immediately and I was at pressure. I set a timer for 10 minutes and let it go.

Meanwhile, I moved on to the next step of the recipe, which was to flash fry some corn tortillas.  I wasn’t sure why this step was necessary as they were going to be rolled, but I decided to go along with it. This would end up being another mistake. By the time I made it to tortilla number four, I was alternating between creating a soggy mess or having the tortillas disintegrate in the pan. It was an unmitigated disaster, and I ended up with about nine usable tortillas out of twelve.

My timer went off so I approached the pressure cooker to relieve the pressure. I pushed the release button and could hear steam coming out, but the safety features indicated that it was still under too much pressure to open (remember that a pressure cooker is basically a stovetop bomb…). I grabbed my towel and reached for the same valve I had turned earlier to release steam, which it did. Directly onto my hand.

Yep. I had a burn on the side of my finger that was rapidly turning into a blister. On the bright side, it smelled really good.

I finally released enough pressure where I could open the cooker and I put the chicken in a bowl to cool. It was definitely cooked now, so that problem was resolved. The next step was to take the remaining sauce items and put them in a blender to smooth everything out. I loaded up the blender, set it to low and hit pulse, which promptly spewed enchilada sauce all over the counter, the floor, and my clothes.

At this point I said some words Mom doesn’t like. I wiped up the counter and floor and re-checked the lid of the blender and hit pulse again. And the sauce spewed out the side once again, back on the counter and the floor. Just then, THE WIFE walked in the door to be greeted with “I’M READY TO THROW THIS WHOLE THING DOWN THE SINK AND ORDER A PIZZA!” “Hello to you, too,” she replied.

As I headed upstairs to search for burn cream and clean clothes, THE WIFE poured the sauce back into the the cooker and smoothed it with the immersion blender. Based on my experience, I may never use the regular blender again.

By the time I came back downstairs, she had smoothed the sauce and was shredding the chicken. I helped finish with the chicken and began looking to the recipe for the next step when she asked “Have you tasted the sauce yet?”

It was hot. REALLY hot. As in “too hot to actually eat”.  We discussed how we could save the dish, but I ultimately chose to spoon a little bit on the chicken and dump the rest down the drain. I was extremely upset, but it was time to admit defeat.


 

So what was I so upset about? Obviously, we all make kitchen mistakes, and I’m still learning how to practically apply what I’ve known mostly as theory. That’s all understandable, isn’t it?

Let’s rewind to what THE WIFE walked into: I was 90 minutes into a 60 minute recipe, with another 30+ minutes of work to go. There was sauce all over the counter, the floor, and the cook. I was raging.  None of these are conditions I wish to have happen.  As Head Of Operations at THE MANOR, my job is to have a clean and efficient household under control.  Instead, I had a mess, and it was particularly galling since I had spent most of the morning cleaning the hardwoods and the kitchen floors.

I was upset because I was failing to meet my own expectations. I’m still working against myself and the voice in my head that tells me that I’m failing if I can’t show how much I’ve accomplished and how much better things are around the house with me at home. Once again, I’m battling the desire to say “Look at me! Look at all I can get done!”

So this will be an interesting thing to focus on and come to grips with. I think as time goes by I’ll learn that the only person with the high expectations for my time off is me.

Oh – and I’m heading out to the store in a bit to buy some tortillas and some enchilada sauce. No need to let some good chicken go to waste…

 

 

The Short Happy Life Of Retirement Beard

2015-09-20 10.11.08One of the first things I did (or didn’t do, depending on how you look at it) upon retiring was to stop shaving.  I began growing my “retirement beard”. There were a few reasons for it, ranging from “because I can” to “hey look, everybody – there’s something different about me! Ask me about it!”

I’d tried to grow beards before, but I never made it past day ten, mostly because the vacation would end and I didn’t want to go back to work looking too scruffy. But this time, that wasn’t an issue.  The only people to answer to would be THE WIFE, THE NEIGHBOR, and various other folks around Mayberry. THE WIFE was a good sport and played along, although it was pretty obvious to me that she preferred me clean-shaven.  Still, she indulged my dalliance into the world of burly facial hair. So I let things go.

I made it to day sixteen before my face began to rebel. I became hyper-aware of every hair on my chin, sort of like when all of the hair stands up on your arm and you are CERTAIN you can feel the breath of insects across the yard. I woke up on day seventeen and went for a run.  The whole time I could feel the hair on my chin, and it was speaking to me.  “It’s time to go.”

When I returned home, I went upstairs, took a shower, and broke out the trimmer.  Maybe I could just trim things up and it would look good and feel better.  But as I began trimming away, it became clear that I was going to shave everything off.

2015-09-20 12.20.29

So that’s what I did.  I returned to my old, clean-shaven look.

Now I’m sure you’re saying to yourself about now “I’m not quite sure why I’ve read roughly 300 words about a guy growing a beard and then deciding to shave once his face began to itch. Is there a point to this?”

Yes. There is.

I’ve always been pretty self-aware, and I know that this was about more than seeing if I could grow a beard and how it would look on me (answers: yes I can, and “good” or “meh”, depending on who you ask). Part of the facial hair was about protest, much like a teenager.  I’m not working anymore! Look at me! But that grew tiresome, and it only took two weeks.

I feel like this is one of those first steps down retirement road. Retirement beard? CHECK! I can now return to my regularly scheduled adventure, filling my time and exploring bits of self improvement. Bearded guy was interesting, but it’s not me. I’m far more interested in what I can learn during this time off, both in terms of practical knowledge and what I find to be important. I’m just now wrapping my head around the relief I feel being away from the corporate world, but I still need to face down whether I’ll ever return to it, and if so, under what circumstances. Basically, I’m starting to understand that I need a clear list of priorities.

Now that I have that the beard out of the way, what’s next? Oh yeah – silly shoes.

The Power Of Forgetting

One of the things I’ve been interested in as I test out retirement is how quickly I would forget about work.  Even when I’ve been on an extended vacation in the past, I would still find there was a little voice in my head thinking about work.  If I were to wake up in the middle of the night, I would invariably find myself drawn to thinking about a work deadline or something I needed to remember, even if it was inconsequential. I wondered what would happen once there wasn’t a job to center my thoughts on.

In the first week, I found myself waking up at 2 or 3AM, usually because I would try to roll over and a cat would be in my way. My normal process would be to think “Okay… why am I awake?  What is it that I need to think through?”  And the answer was… nothing.  I was awake because I was awake.  I might still stay awake for up to an hour, but my thoughts were occupied with things like song lyrics or other ideas. I wasn’t obsessed or tense about anything.  I was just…. awake.  And the shift to this mode of thinking happened very quickly – within the first 2-3 days.

Do I find myself worrying about things? Absolutely? I’m constantly running financial models through my head and doing the math on how and when we could either run out of money or not have to worry about it ever again. I think through the list of various household tasks I have to work through. I think about the networking and other contacts I need to strengthen and maintain. I debate whether anyone would ever want to hire me again, and if they did,  would be something I would want to do.  But the one thing I’m not worried about? My job and the stressors it brought me.

So now when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m just awake. I think about things I want to think about. I’m in control; at least more so than before. And it’s calming. I can feel the relaxation settling in.

And, for the record, I’m sleeping through the night more and more often as time goes by.

On a musical side note, I’d forgotten how utterly strange this video is. Also, the version of the song here is different than the one on Peter Gabriel 3: Melt, with the vocals much higher in the mix and a lot of extra vocal bits. If you don’t already own this album, you should definitely check it out. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

This Is The Day

Today marks the beginning of my second week of temporary retirement.  I received my final paycheck and vacation payout over the weekend. Mrs. Retiree sent off the forms to sign me up for her insurance. It’s late morning and I’m here in a quiet house.

In other words, it’s beginning to feel real.

So here’s how I see things working here: I want to share my thoughts and experiences, but I’m going to be a bit all over the map. That means in between the thoughts on how I’m processing my time away from work, I’ll also be sharing things like album reviews from the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, or discussions of my attempts to cook, or just the other things I’m running across.  If you’ve ever listened to our podcast you’ll know that I have a long history of turning simple tasks into some sort of epic battle between man and power tool, so I’m hoping this will be interesting.

Regardless, it’s game on.  Let’s go…

 

Mac And Cheese

One of the household duties I’ve picked up is cooking dinner during the week.  While I’m a fine grillmaster on my Big Green Egg, most of my inside cooking knowledge is theoretical rather than practical.  I’m not (much of) a danger to myself or anything, but I haven’t needed to do much cooking over the past 20 year.  THE WIFE is an excellent cook, and it’s her hobby, so there really hasn’t been much of a need for me to step in beyond serving as her sous chef or making the occasional meatloaf or enchiladas.

One of the first things I cooked was grilled pork chops paired with the Pepper Jack Mac And Cheese from Steven Raichlen’s book Man Made Meals (Amazon affiliate link). It was a spicy beast, but was quite wonderful, and I made the whole thing from scratch.  Unfortunately, the recipe for this specific version of the Mac isn’t available online and I don’t have permission to reprint the recipe (food folks get very upset and litigious about recipes!), so I’ll just have to tell you about it.

It’s a baked Mac And Cheese with a cut up poblano pepper, prosciutto, and an onion. It’s topped with either break crumbs or (my choice) crushed up tortilla chips. After cooking up 2 cups of macaroni you melt some butter and toast the chip bits. After that, brown the onions, peppers, and ham for about 4 minutes. Stir in some flour and let it cook for about a minute, then begin whisking in some milk. At this point you’re basically making a white gravy filled with peppers, onions, and proscuitto.  After it has thickened a bit, add a wee bit of mustard, then the cooked macaroni and the cheese.  Stir that all together and pour it into a greased baking dish. Cover it with the tortilla bits and bake.

And the verdict? It was pretty darn good, although a bit spicy.  If I had more presence of mind, I would have taken a picture.  I’ll try to get better about that. I’ve always struggled with things like making a white gravy, so I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.  I just had to be patient and stick to the recipe.

Would I Make This Dish Again?  Yes

Would I Change Anything? Yes. We like spicy food, but this was perhaps a bit hotter than either of us would prefer in side dish. It’s likely the fault of the specific pepper Jack cheese I used, but I think next time I’ll either leave out the poblano pepper or just use regular Jack cheese.

 

The Myth Of Productivity

I was talking to THE NEIGHBOR the other day and she offered up a great piece of advice:

You need to free yourself from the idea that you need to constantly be productive.

THE NEIGHBOR has a roughly two year lead on me in retirement and has offered to help guide me through some of what I’ll encounter.  Her point here is that you spend all day at work doing things. Even when you’re slacking off, you’re still driven to try to fill up your time productively. She counseled me that any attempt to fill up my day with productive activities would wear me out.

She was right.

By 2 PM on my first day I had already run three miles, read two chapters of a textbook, completed the first hour of instruction of a class on Python, headed to the grocery store for supplies for dinner, repaired a broken shelf in the bathroom, and now I was headed out to shop again before starting dinner.

I stopped my car in front of her house and she said “You didn’t listen to me about that productivity thing, did you?”

Nope.  And she was right.  The day wore me out. And it was all because I wanted to be able to show myself and THE WIFE that I was doing something. LOOK AT ME! I’M NOT A SLACKER! I CAN PROVE TO ALL OF YOU HOW MUCH I CAN GET DONE WITH ALL OF THIS FREE TIME!

Yeah… that’s not a good long-term strategy.  So now I’m going to have to figure out what the right balance is.

So You’re Retiring?!?!

The question came up over and over during my last few weeks of work – “So you’re retiring?!?!”

It makes sense.  I’m 46 years old, and, well, most people just don’t up and retire at 46.

And neither am I.

I’m taking a break. I’m starting an adventure.  I’m going to take some time to recharge, decompress, and figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

Ideally, I’ll take at least four months (September – December) and then re-enter the working world.  Will it be back to corporate America as a PowerPoint slide monkey? Will I return to my technical/computer security roots? Will I do something else?  Who knows? Regardless, it should be interesting.