Talking Backwards

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past over the past few days. First off, I created an updated version of my resume and sent a specially-tailored version off to my business acquaintance for the possibly-but-probably-not-a-job-opportunity. Secondly, I’ve been scanning most of our lives into a digital format.  Allow me to explain both.

As we discussed last week, I reached out to a business acquaintance about possibly helping him out during a time of transition at his company.  He asked me to send him a resume so that he had something he could show the other people in the office should a need arise. That seems fair – we know one another, but haven’t worked together directly, and the others in his company don’t really know me. If they need to have a discussion about who might be able to help them, a resume seems like just the kind of thing they would want.

Working on the resume was a very good exercise for me. It reminded me of exactly how much I’ve done over the years and what skills I have. It once again helped me address the unfounded fear I’ve voiced about no one wanting to hire me. If anything, the challenge I will face will be how to present myself on LinkedIn. My work for the past 8-10 years has been in operational management with a strong focus on financial work (managing budgets, resources, etc.), but I spent over 10 years prior to that doing technical work ranging from web development to work as a DBA and a UNIX sysadmin to working in network security and managing a research lab. Those two paths don’t often work well together in a career summary, so I think I’m going to have to choose one to highlight. That’s unfortunate because I believe I’ll end up focusing on the financial work, which will either mean that people will overlook my technical background, or it will confuse them. That’s probably going to end up costing me some opportunities. Given, this is only a problem on LinkedIn. If I need to send a resume to someone, I can tailor it to whatever makes sense for the job.

As for the scanning, 2015-11-10 16.41.23I’ve been going through file boxes dating back to the mid-90’s and digitizing our household files (the picture to the right is just a portion of the folders and boxes I’ve gone through). To say that THE WIFE was thorough in what she retained for our records would be an understatement. In amongst the important paperwork (medical records, taxes, major purchases, etc.) were things like bank statements, utility bills, and other monthly mundane papers. The thing is, going through all of these files brought back a lot of memories. There was the thank you letter from a neighbor’s third birthday party.  Or the receipt from when we bought our first new couch. There were the car loans followed by the letters from mom. Finding job offers and then letters of resignation a few boxes later made me think of the good and bad times between those two endpoints.

Opening the box for 2007 was particularly interesting. We both had work challenges as THE WIFE’s company went out of business, then she dealt with a period of unemployment and contract work, before finding the job she still has to this day.  Meanwhile, I struggled greatly with my own work life. The only thing that kept me working for the company was the fact that I had to – THE WIFE was out of work. And that ended up being a good thing. I was able to take my work struggles and turn them into a positive, eventually resulting in my shift out of the technical world and into operational management. This was also the time we discovered podcasts, and eventually podcasting, which gave us both so many new friends all around the world. Thanks to the podcast community, I made a friend who encouraged me to take up the RPM Challenge and record an album in February of 2010. That has led to five more albums since then.

So I guess it’s time for my point, isn’t it? I don’t tend to be overly sentimental, but I think all of this looking back has been good for me. It’s shown me how far I’ve come and what I’m capable of. It’s also reminded me that sometimes the best parts of your life come from what seem to be the worst experiences at the time. THE WIFE and I learned a lot about relaxing and laughing in 2007. Whoever said “Tragedy plus time equals comedy” was spot on. And that’s a good lesson to keep in mind. Now, when all hell is breaking loose, we often look at one another and say “This is going to be a hilarious story in a few weeks….” Or, as my podcasting friend Kovio MX says, “Life Is Show Prep”.

 

Diverging Diamond

Last week I was presented with two divergent ideas. On Thursday, I was asked this:

What would you think about staying home a bit longer than you initially planned?

And on Friday I received an email that said this:

If you think you might be able to add value in either a short or long term capacity, why don’t you shoot me your resume.

Allow me to explain.

MorelandAltobelli_B10_0124The work world for THE WIFE has turned a bit crazy, to say the least. Her company has undergone some major changes and has new projects and products to work on with a very short turnaround. It’s extremely challenging for the team, but it’s also quite exciting. In short, she’s going to be very busy over the next few weeks, and it looks like there are many more opportunities to work on additional new projects going forward. This is what prompted her to ask me about extending my time at home. She’s too busy to think about much beyond her work life, and having me run the household, plan the food, and run all of the various errands has taken a load off of her. She told me that just coming home without having to think about what we might eat that night is a huge relief to her. So she asked me if I might want to extend my time at home behind my target date of December 31.
My response to the question surprised me. My immediate reaction was to think “NO”, but I didn’t say that. I told her I would need to consider her suggestion. I have built up a plan in my mind about re-entering the work world in some form, re-energized, after January 1. But why is that such an important date? The truth is, it’s not.  Here’s what drove my initial reaction, and what I think about each of the concerns:

  • I have a plan and I need to stick to it. Okay – this is just silly. Just because I set an arbitrary date in my head about when I would go back to work, that doesn’t make it something I’m committed to without any flexibility.
  • I’m worried about being out of work for too long. This one has a little bit more credence to it, but, honestly, what’s the difference between taking a four month and a six month sabbatical? Plus, THE BEARDED VP has been telling me that I need to take at least six months off. Who am I to argue with him?
  • Money. The financial angle is a bit trickier. We’re very good savers, so the financial incentive for me going back to work is just to generate more in savings each month. In other words, pretty much anything I will earn will go into savings and investments. Ultimately, my return to work provides some additional short-term security (two incomes are always better than one), but the primary financial function of me working again is to build our savings to a point where we can both retire full-time for good. We’re well on our way to that goal already, but every extra dollar I contribute to savings shortens both of our careers.
  • Social pressure. 10-15 years ago, I probably would have been bothered by the perception others have of me as “a kept man”, as my father puts it. Now, I actually think it’s kind of cool. Based on what most people say to me, others think it’s cool, too.

So how do I feel about potentially staying home into the new year? I’m probably okay with it. I’d like to see additional sources of income coming in, but I’m working on that through some investment strategies. I’d also like to keep in touch with my various contacts and be aware of any potential job leads, but I may not approach it with quite the same urgency.

Which brings me to the second point: I’ve been asked to send my resume to someone.

Last week I reached out to a business acquaintance who is going through his own set of significant changes at work and reminded him that while I was currently on sabbatical, I have some skills that might be helpful to him if he needed some assistance over the short or long term. He responded by asking me to send him a resume so that he could have it handy to show to others on the management team should a need arise.

I haven’t looked at my resume in over five years, and I haven’t truly used my resume to get a job since 1999, so refreshing my resume is a bit of a daunting task. Resume styles have changed, and there’s a big difference between using a resume to get a skills-based job in your early 30s and presenting a 25-year career summary in your mid-40s. I’ve already been considering talking to a resume service about helping me put my information together (as well as refresh my LinkedIn page), but that gets a bit tricky. Who do I want to be? Am I the financial/operational management guy? Am I the former UNIX sysadmin who wants to focus on technical issues? Do I stress my security background? It all depends on who I’m talking to and what the potential position is. In this case, I can tailor my resume to meet what I think are the needs of the company, but that gets to be more complicated when I need to create something like a LinkedIn profile for myself. Once again, the issue of deciding what it is I want to do going forward still sits there as an unsolved riddle.

So that brings me to today where I’m going to spend some time working on my resume. It’s a perfect situation for me – I need to provide an overview of the skills and areas where I think I might be able to help my business associate, but I’m not actually in the market for a job. I’m just providing a paper view of myself for his company should they decide they need my help; and I’m not concerned about whether that help is for 5, 10, 20, or 40 hours a week. In fact, if they don’t need me at all, that’s fine, too. I’m truly just reaching out because I know what challenges he and his company are facing, and if they can’t handle it all with their current staffing, I think I might be able to help. This seems like something I can tailor a resume to.

That’s the thing about My First Retirement – I can never quite be sure what’s in store from day to day. And that’s what’s making this fun.

 

Think Too Much

I spend a lot of time thinking these days.  It happens – you’re in an empty house and you can only carry on so many conversations with the cats before you become worried that you think you’re hearing them talk back…

So I spend lots of time thinking. And this week I’ve been thinking about people and relationships.

A few days ago I was on my way to the local hardware store to take my tiller in for  repair when two cars smashed together right in front of me. I was sitting at a light when a Ford Explorer made a left turn in front of a car traveling straight at 45 mph. They hit head on and the car came to rest next to my truck while the Explorer u-turned and ended up sitting on the curb a few feet in front of me. I jumped out of the truck and checked on the driver of the car. He was a man in his late-20’s, and other than dealing with the shock of the accident and the airbag going off in his face, he seemed fine.  He climbed out of the car and I went to check on the Explorer, which was now surrounded by people who had appeared out of the stores and parking lot next to the accident site. I heard a woman on the phone with 911 already, so I knew I didn’t need to make that call; but as I approached the Explorer I saw that the two passengers were at least in their late 80’s.  They looked stunned and confused, and the woman complained of some chest pains.  I went around to the driver’s to check on the man, and he was quite shaken up, but seemed to be okay beyond a bloody lip.

So I witnessed an auto accident.  Big deal, right? Well, actually it was because I watched a group of strangers, from different age groups, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds all focus on one thing – making sure everyone was okay. The older woman was able to get out of the car, but couldn’t walk, stating that she had recently undergone leg surgery and had difficulty walking. She was also quite confused and in a bit of shock. An extremely large man approached her and offered to carry her away from the car, and when that seemed to scare her a bit, another slightly older man approached her and began gently speaking to her to keep her calm.  About then, the police, fire, and EMT teams arrived and took over. I spoke with one of the officers and gave him my account of the accident. The police eventually cleared a path for me and I continued on my way.

A couple of days later my phone began to buzz as I was receiving the same text blast from THE WIFE and THE NEIGHBOR about another neighbor (THE CHEF) in need of help. Her back had given out and she was stuck, lying on the floor of a local church, unable to get back up.  THE WIFE and THE NEIGHBOR eventually were able to point me towards the correct church, and I headed over. I found THE CHEF lying on her back on the church sanctuary floor with her feet up on a chair, a few steps from the kitchen she was using to prepare food for an upcoming wedding. A very nice man was talking to her as she applied heat to her back, but she couldn’t move. I stayed with her, mostly trying to make her laugh about the situation. Once her son and wife arrived, I alternated between distracting the son (the church had an AWESOME organ!), helping THE CHEF as she slowly began to move and stretch out , and lending a hand to her wife as she loaded up the food for the catering job. By that evening THE CHEF knew that she wouldn’t be able to do much in terms of loading or unloading the vehicles for the catering jobs, so she reluctantly asked her friends for help. It just so happened that I wasn’t doing anything at 11 AM on a Friday (go figure!), so I headed over to help.

Am I telling you all this so that you can see what a great guy I am? No. Not really.  Instead I’m telling you this because it was 15 minutes of effort on a Friday and then another 15 minutes on a Saturday that made a huge difference to them while allowing me to feel good about helping out some people who thought enough of me to allow me to help. It was a chance to pay it forward.

To recap: I was able to see the good side of people last week. First, I saw a group of strangers pull together to take care of people in need, and then I was able to spend a short bit of time helping out some friends. It felt good to see the better side of people. Now I need to figure out if this plays into my bigger picture view going forward, too. While I’m never going to be someone who spends all of his free time doing volunteer work, I should at least figure out if I need to spend more time with others. It runs counter to most of my normal thinking, but challenging my normal thinking is just the kind of thing I need to spend My First Retirement doing.

 

Six Weeks – A Progress Report

“How’s retirement treating you? You look much more relaxed…”

That’s how a neighbor greeted me at a party this weekend and I had to pause for a moment and consider what he said.  Yes. He was right.  I am more relaxed.  It’s happening slowly and subtly, but I’m starting to relax.

Today marks the beginning of week seven of My First Retirement, so I thought I’d offer up a bit of a progress report in various areas. I’ve tried to mix up the posts a bit here, alternating between broader lessons and just stories (mostly about bread, it seems). This will be a little more of the latter.

Let’s look at a few areas of retired life, shall we?

  • Sleep: I sleep much better now than I did in my last few weeks of work.  This should be rather obvious, but having a bit less on my mind just seems to make everything easier.
  • Routines: I’ve developed a definite set of routines each day, and my time is much more structured than I anticipated. I have my morning exercise block, followed by time devoted to learning, then an afternoon section where I am either shopping, cooking, or working around the house/in the yard, finishing up with preparing dinner and sitting on the porch (often with a cocktail and THE NEIGHBOR) as I wait for THE WIFE to get home.
  • Around The House: I’m shocked by how much cleaning I do.  I’ve always done the laundry in the house, and spreading it out a load at a time every few days is actually quite nice, but I just had no idea how much time I would devote to cleaning. Part of it is knowing that there isn’t a cleaning lady coming in a few days to straighten up my messes, but the other part is my own need to keep things tidy after I’ve cleaned them.  And, not to be overlooked, there’s the desire to prove to THE WIFE that I’m not slacking off all day.  Does she care if I slack off?  Not too much. But *I* care.  Yes, I’m still battling that productivity thing in my head….
  • Eating: I eat a lot less than I used to, particularly at lunch.  My diet is much better, too, as eating at home rather than Chick-Fil-A and Wendy’s 3-4 days a week tends to be healthier. I’m also eating far less processed and packaged food, not because I’m some sort of a health zealot, but because I’m preparing most of the meals I eat and they consist of a few ingredients that I can identify. Given, my cooking centers around comfort food and bread, so this isn’t necessarily a path to losing weight, but at least I’m more aware of what is in my food.
  • Cooking: Speaking of cooking, I’m slowly learning how to make a few things. I’ve made a couple of successful soups (the split pea in the pressure cooker was awesome!) and a fine meatloaf, and I even saved a couple of mistakes, turning an overly-thick chicken and rice soup into a nice couple of pot pies. I haven’t repeated anything yet in six weeks, so that makes me feel good. I’m really enamored with the  pressure cooker right now as I can cook chicken dishes in a very short amount of time, but I still haven’t done any sous vide cooking yet.
  • Bread: One of the reasons I haven’t tried our sous vide cooker yet is that I’ve been spending most of my time baking bread.  I’ve progressed from a simple no-knead load to a really delicious pumpernickel in roughly three weeks. Bread is my current fascination, and I’m really enjoying the baking and the learning. As I type this, a rustic country loaf featuring white, wheat, and rye flour is rising in a bowl just a few feet away. I’m getting tremendous satisfaction out of baking and seeing a finished product that people seem to enjoy. I took the pumpernickel (which I had never made before) to a party this weekend and people were very complimentary. It was nice.  Now as for those suggestions from some that I consider starting a bakery, I’ll emphatically say “NO”. I don’t want anything to do with commercial food preparation or the public.
  • Exercise: One of the odd stressors I had in my work life was finding time to run. If I wanted to run in the morning, I often had to get up quite early in order to make it into work at a decent hour. Once the weather turned colder and the days shorter, I would shift to the afternoons, which would mean that I was racing for the door as early as possible just to get home in time to try to run in the relative safety of at least some waning light. I can’t overstate this enough – one of the things that I use to control stress and stay healthy created incredible amounts of schedule stress on me. Meeting running late? No running tonight. Early call? No run today. Slipping out he door to get home in time to run? Gee – the boss sure gave me a funny look as I walked past him. This isn’t a problem now as I have control over my schedule, but it underscores to me how important retaining this time in my schedule will be once I return to work.
  • People: As I’ve stated before, I spend a lot more time alone than I anticipated. That doesn’t mean I’m lonely, but it does make me more interested in talking to people than I used to be.  Truth be told, I’m less lonely at home with the cats than I was working in an office full of people. I definitely expected to spend more time out among others, though.
  • Learning: I’ve devoted an hour or more most days to learning something. So far it has been the basics of some higher-level programming languages like Python and Ruby, but I’m sure it will eventually move in to something else. I’m actually enjoying the coding exercises far more than I thought I would, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s something I should explore more.
  • Music: I’ve listened to a ton of music as I’m working through the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, but I’m also working on my own music. I’ve written one new song so far, which may appear on our next RPM Challenge album in February. I’m also remixing and remastering the first two Letter Seventeen records in order to finally release them on iTunes/Amazon/Spotify, etc. And this is all while we continue to work on finishing the long-awaited-we-hope-we-can-release-this-eventually record we’ve been working on for the last few months. Truth be told, we’re down to a few drum tracks and a couple more passes at some vocals, but these things take time, and the other guys have less of that than I do.
  • Self-Improvement: I’m not sure what to say here. I’m very aware of my desire to improve, whether it be through trying to be kinder or starting to meditate again, or something else along those lines; but I don’t have anything tangible to point to. Well, except for the comment from my neighbor who said I looked relaxed.

I think the real question at this point is “Do I miss work?”  No.  Not really.  I miss a few people, but not much else. Am I thinking about going back to work?  Yes.  Definitely.  I’m starting to learn more and more about what is important to me and what I enjoy.  I’ll just need to include that in my job search. Do I think I”ll need the rest of the year to figure this out? Yep.

 

Clouds Of Bread

It seemed like a simple enough task. I wanted to bake some bread. I had already met with some success using a couple of variations on a no-knead bread recipe, but this time I wanted to make real bread. So I found a (slightly dodgy in hindsight) recipe online and broke out the mixer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note at this point that I have operated the mixer upwards of 4-5 times in the past 20 years.  Tuck this factoid away.  It will become relevant shortly.

I began assembling my ingredients.  I set out the butter to soften up. I measured my milk. I proofed my yeast, just to be sure that it was active. In other words, I covered all of my bases. I then poured all of the wet ingredients into the mixer and scooped in the initial two cups of flour. I attached the scraper blade to the mixer and plugged it in.

2015-10-09 13.36.45POOF.

I forgot to check the switch as I plugged the mixer in. Instead of being set to zero, it was wide open, on ten.  Flour flew EVERYWHERE. Truly, the picture doesn’t properly convey the mess. The dry flour covered most of the counter and floor, while wet, gooey, gluey bits of flour/water/yeast/etc. flew as far as ten feet across the room.  The chairs in the background of the picture have spots of “glue” on them.  So do the floor mats.  And so did I.  I looked like a contestant from a Nickelodeon show who had just been slimed.

I took a moment to assess the situation and watch the flour cloud settle, during which I loudly requested that a deity bring damnation down upon the KitchenAid corporation and the makers of all ingredients previously in the bowl. Then I realized that my jeans were covered in flour glue that wasn’t going to wipe off, so I headed upstairs, changed my clothes, and started a load of laundry.

At this point I knew I needed to clean things up, but I was uncertain if I should still try to make bread. On the bright side, I definitely saw the humor in the situation, even if it wasn’t funny to me quite yet. I posted a picture to Facebook which is still getting plenty of responses.  Let’s call that a moment of personal growth.

As I started to wipe up the counters I decided to go for it again.  After all, it hadn’t taken long to assemble everything, and I had a much clearer understanding of the controls of the mixer now. But first, I needed to mop the floor.  As I cleared the flour and goo from the floor and the mats, I noticed that there were floury footprints across the kitchen.  Oh yeah… I was barefoot and walking through all of this.  One quick trip to the bathroom to clean my feet, and I stopped working against myself as I mopped.

Once the kitchen was back in reasonable shape (I’m still finding flour remnants here and there three days later…) I began assembling my ingredients again. I tossed some butter in the microwave to melt, then mixed up the yeast and other wet ingredients. Just before turning on the mixer, I realized that I now didn’t have enough flour to complete the recipe.  This is, of course, AFTER I had one cup of flour in the bowl. Luckily, the grocery store is just up the road, so I quickly headed over and bought not one, but TWO bags of flour. I tossed the second cup of flour into the mixer and turned it on low and…. it stirred!  No clouds! It was awesome. I slowly added some more flour and eventually switched to the dough hook. After everything was mixed, I pulled the ball out of the mixer and began kneading.

As an aside, if you’re wondering why I didn’t just use the dough hook for kneading, there are two reasons. 1) I didn’t realize that I could use the hook for kneading. I was following the recipe and only later read about using the hook for the kneading phase, and 2) The idea of punching something for ten minutes sounded like fun about then.

After ten minutes of punching and rolling the dough ball, I put it in a large bowl to rise. I started the oven preheating and felt pretty proud of myself. The kitchen was mostly clean and I was making bread despite a prior disaster.

And then I walked by the microwave.

Remember that butter I melted before running to the store to get more flour? It was still in the microwave. It was not in the dough.

I once again uttered a curse that would make Professor Snape proud and considered my options. Maybe I could integrate the butter into the dough before the rise. I grabbed the dough ball and started coating it with the butter and kneading it when I realized exactly how silly I looked.  I stopped.  I laughed a bit (more personal growth!) and grabbed a plastic bag.  I took the dough ball and tossed it in the trash.

By now, I figured I was pretty good at pulling this recipe together.  I had all of my ingredient. I knew how to operate the mixer. I was an experienced kneader. I would remember to include the butter this time.

That’s right – I decided to make a THIRD batch of dough. I was not going to be defeated by bread.

I assembled my ingredients in the mixer and executed all of the steps properly this time. I made it through my ten minutes of kneading and punching, channeling my inner Sugar Ray Leonard, and I produced a ball of dough to put in the bowl.  It was divine, and, to be honest, pretty easy by now as I was quite well-practiced at the routine.

After an hour-long rise, I pulled out the ball and punched it down again, then rolled it and placed it in the loaf pan. After another hour, I saw that the dough hadn’t risen as much as I would like, but that’s been a consistent problem for me thus far, which I’m blaming on my yeast. I decided to go for it and tossed the pan in the oven.

The end result was a nice loaf of white bread.  It was a little too dense (again – I blame the yeast) and small, and I will likely tweak the recipe to include more flavors in the future as it was a bit bland; but I was following the recipe to see how things would turn out. It was certainly edible, and I learned a lot. I just hadn’t planned to learn quite so much about cleaning.

 

The Fine Art Of Breathing

I read an article the other day about how people breathe when they run. It basically boiled down to people breathing in on a regular cadence so that the in and out breaths aligned with the same foot each time, which can contribute to longer-term injuries for some people (always breathing in on the left foot and out on the right, for example). The article also mentioned that runner tend to take shallow breaths, which hurts their overall efficiency. The suggestion was to take deeper “belly breaths”, breathing into and out of your diaphragm for better overall lung usage, and to do it on sets of five steps so that your breaths in alternated feet.  I tried a modified version of the technique, taking deep and slow breaths every third inhalation or so, and it seemed to work really well. I ran faster and felt much stronger through the run.

This got me me thinking about mediation. I’ve always viewed my running as a form of meditation, and the breathing exercise while running seemed right out of a Tara Branch book.

Late last year I read a book by Dan Harris called 10% Happier. In short, he described how he has used meditation to calm the voices in his head and establish better focus. Dan wasn’t interested in the mystic side of meditation (one of my favorite quotes from him is “I didn’t want to live in yurt or be one of those people who uses ‘namaste‘ unironically.”). He wanted to use it to gain some sense of control while still maintaining his edge. This appealed to me, so I dove into the book.  I didn’t start meditating right away, but I did start implementing some mindfulness practices. I reminded myself to “respond, don’t react.” I also tried to live by the mantra “don’t give a $5 response to a 50 cent problem.”  And it worked.  Quite well, actually.  I made it through most of the first quarter of the year calmer and more relaxed than I had been in years.  Eventually, I started meditating for 10-15 minutes a few days a a week. I found that practicing after work calmed me down and allowed me to let go of the stress of the day.

As usual, we’re about 400 words into the post, so it’s time to ask the question “yes, but what does that have to do with retirement?”  Quite a bit, actually. Over the past few months I’ve fallen off the meditation wagon. It’s been weeks since I’ve spent a little quiet time practicing. I’ve been intending to get back to meditation while I have time during my days, but it hasn’t been a priority. Until this past week.

My town of MAYBERRY is going through a local election cycle right now. Candidates are beginning to put signs out and people are starting to state their opinions, and, well… it’s ugly. Friends aren’t being friendly. Battle lines are being drawn over signs in yards or posts on websites.  People are calling one another names or making horrible accusations or comments about one another. Quite honestly, it’s awful. THE WIFE and I live in a great little town full of friendly people who all seem to genuinely like one another, but every few years folks tend to forget that and come a bit unhinged. There have been rumors that a neighbor had her dog shot because of an opinion her husband voiced at a council meeting. At another meeting, someone apparently threw a punch. It’s surreal.

People need to remember to breathe. They need to keep in mind that these same people they are demonizing today will still be their neighbors after the election. I’ve spoken to a number of friends, and we definitely disagree about a number of issues; but we still find a way to move past that. It’s okay to have a different opinion than your friends.  No… really.

Between the article about running and MAYBERRY GONE WILD!, I think the time to start meditating again is now. I need to be calm and collected. I need to respond, not react. And I need to set an example to my friends and neighbors about how an adult is supposed to act. I’m sure the return to practice will help me when I go back to work, too, so I may as well start today.

Either that, or I’m going to have to start carrying a bat when I go to town.

The lyrics to Don’t Wanna Know Why seem rather appropriate about now.

Don’t wanna know why you like me I don’t care
Don’t wanna know why I walk by and you stare
Don’t wanna know why just to wanna know why
Don’t wanna know why just to wanna know why

When I… Breathe in, breathe out.
Carry on, carry out.
Try to… Drive through your life
Breathe in, breathe out.
Carry on, carry out.
Try to… Never say goodbye

Don’t wanna know how you’re feeling I don’t care
Don’t wanna know when you’ll meet me I’m not there
Don’t wanna know why just to wanna know why
Don’t wanna know why just to wanna know why

When I… Breathe in, breathe out.
Carry on, carry out.
Try to… Drive through your life
Breathe in, breathe out.
Carry on, carry out.
Try to… Never say goodbye

I wish I knew
How to tell you
How to tell me why

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 it 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.