Welcome to Middle Age Mark

Our Journey Begins, and boy are we excited!

It’s always nice to welcome someone when you first see them, especially when they come to your place; so, Welcome! Come in! I’m glad you’re here! Kick off the shoes, set down the load, rest the dogs.

Us!

I’m Mark, and that little hot thing I’ve got my arm around is my wife Rachel. Our full time home, or “The Big House,” is in the high-desert northwest. We’re on one-heck-of-a-cool journey, and I thought I’d enjoy writing about it as we go. 

Blogging is new for me, like so many other things these days. I’m at a stage in life where documenting our adventures sounded like fun. The aforementioned adventure-journey is one of self-discovery, self-improvement, the pursuit of financial independence, and just plain figuring out who we want to be and what we want to do for the 3rd act of life.

Teaching an online class

A bit about me: I served 20+ years in the U.S. Coast Guard, and then had several shorter stints like hospice, insurance, and building cell towers. I now enjoy working in online public school education as a Master Teacher. After 13 years, it’s still a fascinating profession and always earns me the “…huh?” look when I tell people what I do. My “classroom” and meetings are virtual, and I get to work from home.

How cool is that? Yeah, I know. 

I divide my time when not working between maintaining The Big House, reading, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, riding my cool vintage Shadow, staying fit, enjoying a good martini (gin of course, and yes those last two can go together), drumming, and summers in our better-homes-and-garden back yard. I have a small side project in fitness coaching, too.

Resort De Plummer. We spend much of our summers here

Rachel is in medical management / consulting and she’s really good at what she does. She’s a consistent reliable source of good ideas, wisdom, healthy cooking, and killer one-liners. She gets jazzed by numbers (?) and loves spreadsheets (??), which comes in very handy when we’re strategizing on finances. 

Rachel started a little side project a year ago, making personalized greeting cards in the renovated basement / art studio. We’re getting ready to do a few small trade shows to test the market.

Check out the creative talent!

We spend most every evening talking. Rachel gets home from her commute and I get out of the home office, we make a drink, and depending on the time of year, we either float in the pool or sit in front of the fire, talking about our day, things we read or heard, things we’re learning, hopes, dreams, plans, appointments – you get the idea. It’s our thing and my favorite part of the day (not just because of the martini, but I can’t say it’s not an aspect).

In January of 2019 we joined the ranks of the Financial Independence (FI) (FIRE) movement. That term can wear many hats depending on who you talk to, but for us it means being debt free with the exception of the mortgage and being able to leverage that freedom. Debt sucks and it’s a drag on life, literally. 

We recently purchased a small vacation home in Mesa, Arizona (read: 640 sq. foot “Baby House” with a nice porch and our very own grapefruit tree). It’s in a cool resort where the people are even more cool and there’s tons of things to do. We’re in the beginning stages of downsizing. We sold the boat, the camper, and the roll-top desk. It was all part of our move towards being debt free, which we are aggressively pursuing.

The Baby House!

Once we achieve zero debt, which is scheduled for September 30, 2020, our plan is to invest more heavily and be able to make some really cool decisions about the next phase of our adventure. (And by cool decisions, I mean a week for two on a chartered catamaran sans shoes, shirt, and worries. Or maybe a big fifth wheel, pulled by a big Ford 350 diesel, with a giant air horn, exploring the country. All prepaid in cash of course).

Retire is not a word that Rachel or I like. We both picture a crumb-filled recliner that tilts to one side and daytime TV. We like better the idea of being free to choose cool new ways to live life. We get jazzed about the thought of doing what we want to do, when and where we want to do it (like chartering a catamaran). It might even mean still working, doing something we’re passionate about. When it comes down to it, we’re happiest feeling useful and engaged.    

Aside from financial achievements and cool dreams, my perspectives on things are changing as I enter mid life. At 57, some might say old age (do we even use that term any more, or did I just illustrate my old-age?), but people are living longer and staying healthier (both of which I plan to do), so I’m choosing to view my 50’s, 60′ and 70’s as middle age. Who’s with me?! 57 is the new 33!

Age brings with it experience, and experience hopefully brings reflection and learning. Learning allows for better choices and more cool new adventures without the “oops,” or as least with fewer and less painful “oops’s.” 

Age also helps sift life down to the essential and important things, and it’s easier to focus on direction. It allows for a better sense of who I am and who I want to continue to be. 

As Rachel said recently during one of our talks, “I like who I am. It’s working pretty well for me right now. I like where it’s taking me.” I could not agree more. 

So, that’s kind of where we are and where we’re going. Thanks for reading; your time is valuable. Writing makes me happy, and maybe I can use this venue to help share some cool ideas and discoveries as we wend our way along this journey. I welcome you in. Lose the shoes. Stay as long as you’d like. 

8 Reasons I Give Thanks for 2020

I recently received my first Covid19 vaccination; a sign that the Ordeal might be thinking about starting to wind itself down. As I waited in line, I saw that people were being polite, kind, and calm. It was not at all the Friday-Night WWE Smackdown crowd I expected. All in all, a very pleasant experience. The time spent with my fellow human beings allowed me to reflect on the year that was; perhaps for the first time. Seeing as how it’s February 2021, it’s past due.

Many people had a very rough 2020. Separated from family, sickness, death, fear, lost jobs, businesses closed, and houses foreclosed; the effects still linger. I don’t offer my perspective as counterweight or contrast, but as my own reflection. My own passing through the year was not without suffering the impacts of challenge, but mine were light. Still, I chose to set my sights on what I learned, how I grew, and what I was and am thankful for.

So here’s to the 8 things I’m thankful I did or learned in 2020.

I Relearned How to Live Small. Rachel and I live in a very small space. At our age (I’m almost 60), one might expect that our American Dream Bauble Bag is nearly filled with copious square footage and multiple monthly minimums. Our small space is enough for us (3-digit square feet; not gonna lie, it gets small sometimes), and it reminds me to be thankful for the basics; a good bed, a good pillow, heat, windows that allow sunlight, way more food than I need, and an oversized rain-style shower head. With the closing off of other places, 2020 taught me to revalue my needs and be thankful for a clean, bright, organized, well-decorated space.

I realized the Importance of Liking My Mate. It’s not uncommon to profess love for one’s mate. It can be another thing altogether to like that person; like who they are, what they bring, how they affect the space you share, and like being around them. In September, the Times reported that the number of people seeking divorces rose 34 percent from March through June compared to 2019 (Read: I loved you, now I can’t stand the sight of you). The irony here is that it probably wasn’t an overt act by either party, it was more about who they were. Long-term time spent together in small spaces, working from home with the kids, no alternatives, cut off from other family and friends; liking your mate is a big one.

I Called my Mom More. My folks are in their mid 80s. Dad doesn’t talk on the phone, and is now living his final days on hospice in a locked-down facility. Mom handles the updates and local weather reports. I’d estimate that I called 5 times per week this past year. I’d call in the mornings when mom was sharpest and least cynical (it’s a New England characteristic), and try to be the voice of optimism and calm. Many of the conversations were me listening to the same stories over and over, and I wasn’t always as successful as I would have liked in being able to highlight the positives, but the talks helped me verbalize all the good that was still taking place. We still talk just about every day and I’ll fly soon to see her. I’m glad I paved the way for routine conversations. They’re going to come in handy.

I Got Really Creative with My Exercise. I’m “somewhat” of a fitness enthusiast. When the gyms closed (I belonged to 3), I contemplated moving to a nation that might have open gyms. There were none. So I found an outdoor fitness station at the local park and was thankful to be able to use workout bands and outside equipment. Some grumpy voyeur caught me and narced me to the park cops, and they taped it off. So I found a huge cherry tree and was using it until the neighborhood national arborist witch saw me and again narced me. Not to be thwarted, I gathered up some rocks and my bands, bought a cheap exercise bike, and took to the garage, the living room, the home office, and the balcony (sorry neighbors). I got really good at figuring out cool and fun new ways to get my fix. It worked! And it set me on a path (Slam Balls!) to create all sorts of approaches to fitness that don’t involve heavy weights or gym machines. I now do a combination of bands, weights, machines, and am thinking of starting a Slam Ball! club.


I Got a Guy. The phrase, “I got a guy” can often be the answer when asked how you got something done with seemingly minimal effort. It hints at inside connections and people who have a particular set of skills. Near the end of 2020, Rachel and I finally found and hired a financial advisor: George. We met with George first online, and then in his office as conditions relaxed a bit. George is the guy. He helped us kick our debt-free lifestyle to the next level. Rachel loved playing with the available software, and we’re now leveraging the power of long-term investing. God willing and with some wise decisions, our retirement status looks very promising. It’s really fun to be optimistic about the future, and we’re already having fun making plans (Bahama Catamaran!) It’s several years off yet and that’s good; we’re having fun working from home and investing as much as we can.


I Got Better at Not Caring (still working on this one). We all have those things that set us off. Especially around the house. We like things the way we like things. And two people sometimes have differing but equally passionate and equally nonsensical ways they like things. I am a meticulous bed-maker. Rachel does not like dishes soaking (she bought cardboard bowls to break me of bad habits). I am highly anti-clutter, anti-horizontal-surface-stuff-put-on-er (?). Rachel is passionate about recycling (she bought another trash bin to break me of other bad habits). There is also a towel thing I’m still learning (kitchen floor spill cleaned up with a quick bathroom towel grab = death wish). Communication is key, but even the best communication can’t compete with an unmade bed (It’s like a fat uncle who sleeps on the couch all day). I learned (still learning) to know the important ones, and to let the non-important ones go.

I Got Better at Living in Community. I hate wearing a mask. Hate. I can’t get air. It’s probably some sort of leftover childhood thing. Even now I can’t sleep without the window partially (wide) open, even in winter, because closed windows equal no oxygen. I could asphyxiate in my sleep. I was also never really worried about contracting the virus. Even if I did contract it, I am a healthy, active, fit, 59 year old, which put me at the bottom of the risk column. Mask wearing took on a life of its own and seemed to become more of a moral issue than a scientific one. I was getting looks in parking lots 100 yards from the store. I realized that looking first to my own comfort created discomfort in others. I learned that people were genuinely scared, probably not evil. There’s a common ground between individuality and societal responsibility (like not Slam Balling on the 4th floor – sorry neighbors). I still hate wearing a mask, but I like living in community.

The Best Friday Night Special Gin Comes from Idaho. I started another new tradition in 2020: the Friday Night Special Gin Martini Reward. This is one drink, made with Special Gin, at the end of the work week, to celebrate and commemorate a week well-lived. The first sip is other-worldly; savored for a full 30-seconds before swallowing, in silence, eyes closed, as I reflect on the success of the past week (release, relax, visions, Handel, enlightenment). Of course, there can be only one Special Gin, which of course comes from right here in Boise, Idaho:

OK 1 More: People Are Still Good. I have restraint issues. I know. But I needed to add this one before publishing. Taking in media these days, in any form, can acidize the soul, corrode the spirit, and surreptitiously darken the lens through which we view the world. There’s lots of research on negative bias and why we’re drawn to it, on generalization bias and our tendency to make broad assumptions from specific events, and on what keeps us clicking, reading, and watching. Spend even minimal time taking in most media, and it becomes easier to conclude that we’re all descending into hatred, chaos, and disaster. But it’s still a true, if ancient adage: Please don’t believe everything you read (or watch) (emphasis mine). What I experience when I go outside, ride my bike, go to the gym, get on the elevator, shop, dine, take out the trash, and generally interact with humanity, is that people are kind, friendly, courteous, well-meaning, and a little bit freaked out and scared.

So there it is. Some of the more important things I learned in 2020 and will take into 2021.
It is and is going to be a great year.

Update: Middle Aged Keto Adventure

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So! It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to get some time to write, and boy have I missed it. I feel like I’m getting backed up. Like most Americans, life has been a little more than full. I’m blessed to have a full life. A full life is a good thing (but if the pace came off just a bit I’d be ok too).

A few months ago, I started an adventure in food intake called Keto. Most people are by now aware what Keto eating is. The general idea is to remove just about all carbohydrate foods from the diet, and replace those carb-dense foods with added fat and protein. The idea is to train the body to burn fat as the primary fuel source.

Rachel and I started Keto eating about 4 months ago. She was addressing some joint pain and inflammation issues. I tend to be really food-lazy (when left to my own devices, I usually find something left over and add alot of mayonnaise to it), so I figured why not? Perhaps sadly, I could eat the same thing 9 times a day and be fine (as long as it had alot of mayonnaise on it). See why Rachel handles the meals?

My aim in our adventure was to tone, tighten, try to hold my muscle mass, and make my fat places less fat (and ok, not cook).

We all have those places that we look at first in any reflection or picture of ourselves. We sigh. My areas were and are my abs and love-handles (waist), so thankfully I need to be mostly naked for those to show (which happens more often than it probably should. What?) At 59 and 1/2 (thank you financial advisor for pointing that out), I was not expecting bodybuilding show quality, but I do try to set a better-than-your-average 59 and 1/2 standard.

Plus, Keto just sounded groovy. I’ve never been part of an eating group, so of course I was anxious to try it out. Keto menus, keto ice cream bars, keto websites, keto workouts (mayonnaise is of course the top keto condiment – score!). For me it sounded like a slow fat one over the plate.

I have one or two Keto-bites every night day

Like most new adventures, I set my goals and created a plan. My goal was centered around a keto trend, but not necessarily going whole-hog (although, actually eating a whole hog would trend towards being keto-friendly, so there’s that).

My plan

– Be smarter about my selection of fats but maintain an increased level of fats in the diet
– Reduce the carbs but still maintain energy and strength
– Get those carbs largely from the garden
– Stay away from anything man-made (except after-dark bites of my Keto bars)
– Stop eating / snacking at night while watching “Alone” (Hey bear! Grilled muskox hooves!)
– Get another lipids panel pulled in 30 days
Reach 190 and order the new Speedo (Rachel said no but no can mean so many things)
– Consume a fine martini or two a night (Gin, of course)
– Maintain my love of all things fitness and slam my balls (It just never gets old)

How Keto Really Worked For Me

The real test of any plan is living it, and keto was the same. The truth is, for me, I didn’t alter a great deal of what I was already doing. Mostly, I cleaned it up a bit, learned more about how many carbs I was actually getting (yikes), and paid more attention to the evening snacking. To be honest, after awhile I found that keto was leaving me flat, feeling a bit thin, and lacking energy to slam my balls (and that dog won’t hunt).

The final answer for me was limiting my carbs and moving into a sort of modified keto. I left most of the processed food alone (rice cups, bread, and crackers). I just didn’t feel well adding a lot more fat to my diet. I did increase fats like avocados and peanut butter, but that whole bacon thing made me ill. The main achievement for me was in reducing my carb intake and switching what carbs I do get over to whole foods.

I tried to be food-aware every day; to lean into whole foods that would get me where I wanted to go, and to leave the ones that were boxed or packaged alone. I eat a lot of food every day, and more now because of the slam-ball workouts. In my quest to take up slightly less space on the planet, I sought to better understand the effects that carbohydrates had on my body.

We are awfully carb-heavy in this country (see what I did there?) and I was no exception. I became more aware, ate slower, thought about the food in my mouth, planned meals, didn’t buy the crap, and really evaluated portion sizes. I’m not a resrictionist; less and less is not a sustainable approach. I do believe in awareness, exercise, and fun, and more.

My Food

My daily food now consists of a morning Muscle Milk potion with blueberries (blueberries help keep lead in the pencil, and the antioxidants are an added bonus), or egg whites and cheese. Maybe half a banana. Tropical fruits like bananas have a lot of sugar, so I go easy there (banana and coffee. Yes.).

For lunch it’s usually some variation of leftovers from the night before or something with cottage cheese (tuna?) and mayonnaise of course. My mid-afternoon snack is probably more of the same as lunch. My after mid-afternoon snack (slamming balls takes lots of energy) is often an apple and peanut butter or the other half of the morning banana and peanut butter.

For dinner we grill some sort of protein or tofu (if you’ve not grilled tofu, don’t write it off just yet. Put the barby sauce to it and you’ll be surprised). We grill just about every night, year round, and we grill just about anything and everything you can think of, including all manners of vegetables and proteins. You name it, I bet I’ve grilled it (next up, muskox hooves). We mix that with a giant salad or grilled cauliflower or broccoli or carrots or brussel sprouts. Grilled broccoli tastes like steamed clams. Try it, you’ll see. Pretend you’re on the coast of Maine overlooking the surf and are rich. A fine martini (Gin, of course) really cements the fantasy.

In the evening when I get snacky, I go back for the blueberries (heh-heh) in a bowl, and add peanut butter, baking chips, and soy milk.

Of course, like I planned, I’ve kept the evening martini (Gin, of course) (or two), along with the great conversation time with Rachel. We plan our future, talk about goals, make plans, and recount the day. I’m working on perfecting the Blueberry Martini (Gin, of course).

But Wait, There’s More

I would be remiss if I did not mention that when I want a treat meal (not cheat meal. Stop thinking like that), I have it. We had pizza last week (loud noises and involuntary hip thrusts. Sorry neighbors). It is life, after all; eat the damn cupcake and have fun and make noises (just don’t do it every day). And then remember you had that enjoyment, keep a big smile on your face, and look forward to making plans over the next week to stay on your goals.

I would be remisser (?) if I did not also mention exercise. Although I might not be working with the poundage I used to (always a good idea to delay knee replacement), it’s really vital to the long term success of any life-health plan. I can’t say that enough. We have to move, and we have to maintain muscles, which means lifting things. Keep it fun, mix it up, get creative, work hard.

It’s been a little more difficult wearing a mask at the gym (feels like being waterboarded), but every once in awhile, because of the decrease in gym attendance, I get the place to myself…and…I mean…well?

Booby Dance!

Finally

I know most people want some sort of quantifiable progress so here’s that: Although I hate scales (they only really tell you what planet you’re on), I went from 202 to about 187. My body seems to want to stay right around that weight; some days a little more, some less. I closed up one notch on the belt. I ate alot of food. I didn’t take body fat percent or any of that, but I think my fat places are skinnier.

Here’s the real deal: I feel great. At almost 60, I have so much energy. I’m happy and optimistic. I’m ready to go all the time. I can’t wait for the next workout, or mountain bike ride, or aerobic housecleaning, or whatever it is. Again, I’m focusing on a workable health and lifestyle plan that’s fun and sustainable. Modified Keto did what I wanted it to.


As always, I’d love comments. I have zero interest in arguing, so if you disagree, be well and more power to you. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but often just having a real conversation about ideas can be the action that gets us past that sticking point. If you have pointers or a life-lesson, I could use all of them I can get.

It’s been fun. It is fun. I feel great as I near the end of my 5th decade in this realm. I’m still making positive changes. I eat clean and light most of the time. I eat often. I’m happy. I move in all sorts of ways. I lift heavy things. I have more fun. I look pretty good for my age and for someone who does not obsess (but, I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t do the booby dance when they can?)

Middle Age Slam Balls

Fitness is one of the pillars of my life. I enjoy it immensely; talking about it, planning it, eating for it (keto success update coming next post – I feel good!), teaching it, reading about it, and doing it. It’s definitely one of the things I’ll take into retirement and will devote significant portions of each day towards.

Sometimes I come home from the gym and tell Rachel I saw Moses. Seeing Moses is a phrase I use when my workout was really good; when everything just works and I’m firing on all cylinders. On particularly (really) good days, I tell Rachel I saw Moses and the Seven Elders, which means (of course) that my workout was over-the-top; I’ll probably be parking in the handicap spot the next day (or two).

This morning, I saw Moses, all the Elders (there seems to be more than seven now), and some other bearded guy (Abe?) All were raucous with applause and angelic singing. Oxygen deprivation you say? Music too loud you ask? 3rd Martini (gin, of course) last night perhaps? Nay, major nay. Rather, the workout was so amazing that it loosed me from earthly chains and transported me into spiritual realms.

No, seriously. In lay terms: I got there. Uh-huh. So good was the workout, in fact, that I came home and immediately needed canned clams and cottage cheese (email me for the recipe) to fill the carnivorous void (are clams meat?)

For a few months now, I’ve been Slamming Balls (?) Hm.
I mean, I’ve been Ball Slamming (longer Hmmm).
(Gets a running start)
For a few months now, I’ve been incorporating the aggression, speed, power, agility, and strength of using Slam Balls.

Slam Balls pretty much live by their name: weighted rubber balls (varying weights) about the size of basketballs, that are filled with sand, and are intended to be thrown (as hard as possible (!)) against walls – commercial concrete and brick, not house walls (learned that the hard way or floors. They can also be thrown in the air – not straight overhead (learned that hard way), or lifted and moved around the body for resistance moves. Slam balls don’t bounce and they don’t roll.
Think splat, thud; really heavy splat thud.

Think: pick up and slam, as hard as you can, as many times as you can, as fast as you can, before your heart explodes.
See?

Premium Slam Ball Prime | Power Systems

I started using Slam Balls at the local Idaho Fitness Center (love these little well-equipped, clean, inexpensive gyms) as a warm-up exercise. The balls there were 15 lbs and 20 lbs, and the more I played with them (the gym has cinder block walls that read “throw balls here” – Ok!), the more I liked the variety they brought to my typically static and form-conscious weight routine. I began to create various movements with the Slam Balls and found myself spending my gym time split between using the Balls and using weights. Plus, with my music blasting in my earbuds, it became sort of noisy-heavy-agressive-dancing-moshpit-slamballing.

I find as I’m maturing (read: becoming vintage and classic), I’m learning that I get bored easily with certain locked-in, by-the-rules (I hate rules) approaches to fitness (used to drive my son insane when we trained together). I’ve become more eclectic about fitness (ok – I’ve become more eclectic about alot of things). I almost always make it up as I go.

Sidebar: this type of what my mom used to call “energy,” is what got me into trouble as a kid (heyyy, I know what we could do….) Now, as a Middle Aged “Classic,” this energy is helping me create new and fun things – like Slam Balling.

After I had used the 15 and 20 lb slam balls at the gym for a few weeks, I was hooked and found myself wanting to go and just, well, Slam Balls. So deep was my new love for slam balls, that I knew I had to have my very own. I ordered a 30 lb Slam Ball. And loved it. I loved it so much in fact that I ordered a 50 lb slam ball.

Sidebar #2: It’s fun getting something in the mail that’s small, round, and weighs 50 lbs. I told the UPS guy I had built a cannon and needed a cannonball to test it (he scribbled a quick note at that point and nodded silently). The tape-covered shipping box had ceased being a box by all box standards and had become a wholly useless and dilapidated cardboard sheathing. I dropped it in the elevator and felt it bounce (the elevator, not the ball).

Here’s where I share with you that my fitness has become a new thing. The mix of slamming balls, added to weights and cardio, is just downright adventurous. Slamming balls leaves me breathless. Honestly, at first I thought the 50 lb ball was a bad idea (just getting it into the gym is comical). Because of it’s small size and shape, it seems really heavy. And it’s a mistake to start with that one (especially 1 week before my 59th birthday).

But I’m up to 7 slams (with the 50 lb) now before I am out of oxygen (or my lungs partially collapse – hard to really tell); my new goal is ten. I make a lot of noise and Oh.Em.Gee., the all-at-once-overall shoulders-legs-back-arms-lungs workout leaves me wondering how much the fine would actually be for parking in the nearest handicap spot (plus, who’s not up for the fun of coming home after a great workout and making endless jokes about slamming balls?) I mean, winner all around.

Additionally, we Middle Age men seldom get the opportunity anymore to use everything we have; to really go all-out; the explosion of speed, aggression, strength, power, and the sheer violence of throwing something so hard as to try to destroy it, repeatedly, until you just can’t anymore, reaches somewhere into the ancient animal of the soul.

Pure, unbridled, physical power.

Zen

Kill
Kill

It’s little wonder Moses and the Elders cheer and sing.

It’s yet another one of the things in life I never thought I’d find myself doing. I love that about life; being able to do things I just never thought I’d get to do. It creates optimism, hope, expectancy, and a feeling of accomplishment. Plus, it’s kind of fun when young bucks give me that Dude – what’s with the William Wallace? look.

Sidebar #3: Rachel just ordered her own 10 lb slam ball (I think she’s jealous of my spiritual audience and the access to never-ending joke material).
I thought it might be fun to develop a couples’ Ball Slamming (leave it alone) workout. This one could be more of a she-throws-hers-and-he-fetches-it-back (clearly a potential precursor for all sorts of other fun things).

Just the dialog alone could get the neighbors peeking over the fence.
Let your couple’s imagination run wild.
I have.

Middle Age Keto Adventure

In most adventures, many things go right. And usually there are some things that don’t go quite as right as hoped (in my adventures there are usually several, “Well…(long pause)…shit”). But adventure equals risk, and where there’s risk there’s the real option of screw ups, fall downs, minor crashes, and, the worst, going ass over teakettle. That’s how it is with my current keto adventure. At 59, and a long-time trainer, I’m experimenting with what I thought I knew and seeing if there are better options for the middle-age me.

If you’re like me (you should thank God you’re not), you’ve heard enough about diets, food plans, fads, and Keto. Eat this, that, and the other, don’t eat this, that, and the other, he said, she said, experts say, other experts say, doctors say, other doctors say, Facebook, experts this, experts that; you get the idea. Too many differing opinions. We’re left to sort it out ourselves.

But not venturing in is a 100% sure-fire way to not learn anything new and to remain where we are, so I ventured in. I wish I could report that I’d found Ponce’s youth fountain, but that would be a lie. I have actually learned, and am learning, some pretty cool stuff though, so read on and perhaps it may be of some use to you.

I first started Keto eating when Rachel started it about 2 months ago. She was addressing some joint pain and inflammation issues. She handles most of the meals and cooking in the house, so I thought why not? I’m very food lazy. I could eat the same things 9 times a day and be fine, as long as it’s easy (see why she takes care of all the food?). I’m also a very active man (am strong like bull), lift heavy weights 4-5 times per week (I make noise), add all manner of resistance bands and weight balls (just bought a 30lb Slam Ball – so excited – sorry neighbors), mountain bike, hike, and love lawn and yard work and projects. But it’s probably a safe bet that at 59, eating like I did at 29 is a bad idea.

This year, pre-keto, 202 lbs.

I wasn’t really looking to lose weight per se; I wanted to tighten, tone, and add some definition to my abs. I also wanted to stay strong and have energy to spare.

It took some time to get used to. Keto meals take planning. I was used to eating alot of protein, but it was alot of fat for me. A few of the meals were crossed off the list after I beached myself and Rachel needed to roll me back into the surf. I soon learned that my activity level required a modified keto plan. From what I can tell, alot of keto plans limit carbs to under 20 per day, and that left me feeling a bit flat and thin. But I kept tinkering with it, and started seeing positive change pretty quickly.

After about 30 days, I’m down 9 lbs (193) and am seeing nice changes in my abs. My fat places are getting thinner. I think I’ve got the carbs figured out (I don’t count. I just try to be aware) and have learned tons. I feel good, have tons of energy, and am still strong like bull. My new goal is to get to 190 lbs and see what that looks like. I have to report that so far it’s been pretty easy (because Rachel does all the work and I just eat).

This was me.

It wouldn’t be fair or useful if I didn’t report my, “Well…(long pause)…shit” moments. I was already scheduled for a routine yearly physical with a full set of blood labs. While most indicators checked great, my doc had his own cardiac event when he saw my cholesterol level (245) after it had always been in the healthy range (170’s). His chart note read: strongly recommend reducing saturated fats and cholesterol intake in the diet. I did research on HDL and LDL and VLDL and triglycerides; a fella could get lost in there and never come out. I was a bit discouraged but more curious than anything.

To be fair, I eat alot of food. Like, an enormous amount of food. And I ate some of the meals too fast, and some were too heavy for me. Large amounts of heavy cream and butter can’t be good for me. My body thought I had declared war against it. And, ok, did get a little crazy with the bacon (well?) We have been doing alot of camping, and coffee, bacon, and the campfire is just what to do. I was also eating 4-5 whole eggs every day. With bacon. And these little keto muffins called fatbombs. With peanut butter (well?)

I had neglected to tell my doc I had started keto when we met. I just didn’t think about it. And high cholesterol levels are not something I’m prepared to live with (defib paddles are like $500). His chart reply read: Hard to say it if is adversely affecting your cholesterol, though. You might try increasing your protein intake and reduce your fat intake to see if that helps reduce your cholesterol numbers. As of now, however, your heart disease risk is well-managed and I am not going to push you too much on that. Overall, I think you are taking good care of yourself.

Mm. Not the definitive Mark! You’re a stud! Love keto! Eat more bacon! All is well! I was hoping for. But I had already re-modified my modified keto diet to stay clear of the saturated and animal fats (sniff, sniff) and align more with plant fats: nuts (mmmmm….peanut butter), guacamoles, olive oil, etc.

And here’s maybe the coolest part of my adventure. I’m learning that I was eating a medium sized Uhaul trailer full of carbs, even as I was trying to be smart and make healthy choices, like whole grain pasta or one small cup of Jasmine rice:

40 carbs per serving. It’s easy to eat 2 servings

50 carbs per cup. Sometimes I’d eat 2 a day

Even a banana will find you eating 30 carbs. Carbs convert faster to glucose and create an insulin response in the body. Elevated insulin levels in the body promote increased fat storage. Although I’m not anti-carb, I was unaware how many I was eating per day. By increasing healthy fats while lowering some carb intake, I can help lower insulin response and create the sensation of being really full.

So, here’s my next phase of the Middle Age Modified Keto adventure:
– Be smarter about my selection of fats but maintain an increased level of fats in the diet
– Reduce the carbs but still maintain energy and strength
– Get those carbs largely from the garden
– Stay away from anything man-made
– Stop eating / snacking at night while watching “Alone” (Hey bear! Scary!)
– Get another lipids panel pulled in 30 days
Reach 190 and order the new speedo (Rachel said no)
– Consume 2 fine martinis a night (Gin, of course) (what?)
– Maintain my love of all things fitness and slam my ball (heh heh)

So, “after” pictures are coming! I’m excited, and I find new opportunities and adventures really fun. It’s not about being perfect, or being as good or better than anyone else. It’s about improving, and showing thanks by taking care (a big one for me).

So, if you’ve had any experience in keto, please do add comments. Learning from others is the best way to learn.

8 Reasons Middle Age Camping is a Great Idea

Our campsite in the Sawtooth National Forest

I wrote this blog in a little notebook while sitting at the water’s edge in the above picture on the last morning of our most recent camping trip. There’s a special ambiance that comes with camping near water. It’s even more relaxing and mystical. I didn’t know what day of the week it was. I did know I didn’t want to go home.

Although I love where we live in Boise, I wondered why I was so resistant to heading back to the real world. We had braved cold (low 30’s at night), dust storms, smokey fires, being sunburned and bugbit; even taking a classic header while fly fishing. But on that last morning, I would have written a blank check to be able to stay. As I walked myself through why, here’s what I came up with.

My Wake Up view

We Get Outside Ourselves. There are no reflective surfaces when camping. No mirrors and nothing that reflects what we look like. We’re not reminded of our hair or weight or wrinkles or those places that we focus on every single time we look in the mirror. We have charcoal smudged hands and sandy feet. I have the best wild camping hair and it’s great to just wear my even more wild camping straw hat. We get to focus elsewhere. It’s freeing.

You sure do make beautiful places

Talking to God is Easier. Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of His Nature Show. The stars at night beg wonder. The power of forces are easier to see. I reflect more. I’m more thankful. I feel appropriately small and reminded that an awful lot of stuff goes on with no help from me, like forest fires and bears and rivers and wildflowers.

Here fish fish

Concerns Become Simpler. We headed to the mountains just as a mandatory mask order was being put into place and all the usual political/ social / medical hoopla was in full hoop. Once in mountain air, all of it was quickly forgotten. My concerns became very simple: tent zippers, weather, food with minimal ash, enough ice, firewood, not getting eaten by a bear, and trying to catch a fish. That’s pretty much the list. My brain unknots. I become tolerant, easy, happy; heck, even funny. I like me.

Where did Mark go?

Peeing Outdoors. I really like to pee outside. Peeing outdoors has got to be one of Man’s first best enjoyments. It’s natural. It feels right. There’s room. And things to look at. It’s feels Manly. And feeling Manly leads to using saws, building fires, getting wood and then making jokes about getting wood, creating the perfect Man-kingdom-settlement-campsite, toting big caliber handguns, and exploring; all things that give men back their wild. Wild is good.

No traffic getting to our mountain top date

Less / No People. Camping, especially outside of regulated campgrounds, lets us get away from people. People are often the reason we have challenges. Their actions impact our lives, and we’re forced to deal with their dumbness. Managers and leaders know that people themselves make up the bulk of work problems. Less/no people, less/no problems. Less we have to adjust to. An increased likelihood that our grand plans come to perfect fruition. As they should, of course.

Does this person need a calendar?

No Calendars. In the real world, the non-camping world, our lives are strictly regulated according to time. Everything we do, from waking to sleeping, has an allotted time, including the waking and sleeping. 7 minutes to shower, 3 minutes to brush the choppers with the sonic, pouring coffee and grabbing the lunch is 2 more, and out the door by minute :17 or traffic will be a school bus bitch. Then it’s 3 meetings, 30 minutes to eat lunch, and 3 more meetings, all with accompanying reminder dings. I hate dings. But in the camping world, there are no calendars. F&#! calendars and f&#! dings (and the horses they rode in on). In the camping world, days are known by the one thing that is enjoyed that day, like hiking, or biking, or beaching, or napping, or reading, or fishing, or sitting with your toes in icy river water. We get to slow down. We get to breathe. We drink cold beer. We are successful.

Mid day peace

We Get to Minimize. Camping allows us to remember the simple things, the minimal things, and how rewarding these things can be. The sound of the river at night and tent zippers, owls, shooting stars, campfire coffee and bacon, sunrise, the moon, and crickets. Staring into a quiet campfire until late at night. Hushed conversation with wide open spaces. It doesn’t take very long for these things to begin to unwind us. We feel the stress begin to come off, the shoulders drop, a few cleansing breaths, a deep sigh. It can make one wonder if the real word is really worth it.

Excuse me Ma’m, does your buggy need fixin?

Sex. This one probably should be closer to the top. Camping sex can be awesome. Although air mattresses don’t always offer the best support, not to mention if they pop it might mean a night on the hard ground, there are multiple other campground places that work. Couples feel more connected. We need each other more. We talk more. We wear less clothing. It’s cold at night and hot during the day. Men feel more manly in the wild. You can play games like lumberjack and/or lady camper in distress. There are no people around so being loud is not an issue. Although the term “Squirrel!” might take on a more literal meaning, getting the Bow chicka wow wow going in the great outdoors should certainly be on the list.

So there’s my list of why camping in Middle Age is just an all around great idea. I’m sure you can add to the list, but the important thing is that you just go. Find a place, get some stuff together, and head out. Summer will fade all too soon; get out there and make some memories.

Summer Fun Update!

Go ahead, say it: “Groovy baby!”

Rachel and I have just started our July 2020, and despite it being a unique summer for obvious reasons, we’re having a ball. As I write, I’m sitting in the sun on the 4th floor balcony, surrounded by towering sunflowers, green tomatoes, a cucumber bush (?), herbs, and listening to Jason Aldean and kids playing Marco Polo in the pool.

Taking over!

We’re just back from several days of camping in Featherville, Idaho, and are preparing to head out again to Stanley, Idaho. We recently purchased all new camping equipment, after having sold it all because we were positive we were done with camping, and absolutely positive (no, honest, really) we were done forever with tent camping. So much for having life figured out, huh? That’s twice now I’ve been taught the “Never say never” lesson. I’m trying very hard for it to be the last.

We love the new truck tent and sleep so well with the fitted air mattress
And we love camping on the water

My profession allows me to have half of June and all of July free from work. Although I pick up some summer add-on hours, my days and weeks are largely mine to fill as I choose. It’s a great time to begin to practice retirement, and I like the arrangement and opportunity. Many people are thrust into retirement with no real time to “dabble.” It can be a real challenge to find meaning and purpose when the profession goes away.

Rachel is still enjoying her year of sabbatical, but has just recently begun applying again. We have a better idea of what she does and does not want to invest in, and we’re leaning strongly toward finding something online full time. We’ve been able to do very well on just my income; again one of the benefits of being debt free.

One financial side note and a good lesson for us: after buying the truck tent, the only real drawback that we found was that it’s a pain to go exploring or run to the nearest town because we have to take down the tent to go anywhere. Although it only takes about 20 minutes (read: first-world problems), we were finding it a pain. So, we started looking at side-by-sides, razors, UTV’s, etc, to add some fun and solve a practical issue. The type of size we wanted would cost us right at $20K, and we wanted one badly. After several days and multiple dealers, we both came to the conclusion (over a fine Martini; gin, of course) that, although it would have been a cash deal, this was not the season of life to buy one. I believe that season is coming, (along with a blog post called Seasons), and soon, but it’s not quite time. I was proud of us (but oh boy someday!)

Zoom zoom!

Our other most recent adventure is Keto, low carb eating; a whole new approach to food for me. Rachel discovered, after years of research and several doctors, that she is challenged with insulin resistance (I’m challenged by liking chocolate fudge whoopie pies. Omg. Colors). She’s been teaching me the ins and outs of the diet, and we even stay on it when camping. It’s hard work, takes discipline and planning, and we’re both seeing incredible results. I’m still dialing it in, as it’s not really designed to support the intense type of workouts that I perform daily, but I can see a physical difference in my abs (at 59, I’m getting obliques back). Kind of fun.

Finally, this summer is allowing me to explore another dream: fly fishing. Ever since I saw the movie A River Runs Through It, I’ve wanted to live in the west and fly fish. Half of that dream has been realized; time for the other half. It looks like such art when performed well (and by well I mean not getting washed downstream screaming “Mayday!”), and it seems like it would pair nicely with camping on the water. Fly fishing seems founded in western rivers and streams, it’s not something I heard much about back east. It’s going to be a very special moment for this Man when he lands his first fly fished fish. Little things (no laughing Fred! I can do this!)

I know you’re out there!

So there it is. Summer 2020. Add in some extra mountain biking, pool time, and writing, and it’ll be a quick 6 weeks of retirement practicing. Lots of good things happening. I’m working on several new blog posts for the fall: Things my mom says (she thinks she might be Hispanic now), The 55 and over world, and the aforementioned Seasons. I’m looking forward to getting those put to page.

Be well and safe my friends.
MP

Middle Age OMG

OMG.
Oh.
Em.
Gee.
Endorphins are a wonderful thing. So is the feeling of feeling your body move. Muscles and tendons and joints and lungs and even spleens (?) doing what they were designed to do.

After a very-too-long absence from the gym, I’m back as of this morning. And Oh My Goodness (!) it’s incredibly fantastic.
It’s true; it really is Goodness.

I knew I had to be a bit cautious. Although I’ve done a great job of maintaining during the close down, there’s a difference between body weight movements and resistance weight movements.

It was glorious. Better even.

I’ve never considered myself to be a gym-rat. I actually strongly dislike the term. I do however take fitness seriously; it’s a significant aspect of my life. For me it’s a mental-physical-emotional-sexual (what?)-spiritual experience. There are a thousand ways to be fit and strong, and I support all of them. And there are some really smart people who have designed some really cool equipment that allows the body to strengthen itself in ways that simple body weight movements can’t.

Fitness is an amazing life tool.
And with underlying health factors becoming a real thing, there’s never been a better time for Middle Age folks like me to tend to the house God gave them.
It’s a Lifetruth: Growth happens when we overcome resistance.
And it’s wicked fun.

I was expecting the little local club to be packed; overrun really. The fit and not-so-fit masses storming the doors. Lines, masks, people being weird and offended and freaked out and you’re too close! The whole planet knows that gyms on Saturday mornings are mobbed. Gyms on Saturday mornings after being closed for months will be Toilet-Paper-Aisle-Lock-down insanity.
What happened was none of that.

I was there early-ish (a little after 7am), and there were just two cars in the lot (huh?) My first thought was Crap. I was wrong; it’s not open or I’m too early. Nope. I walked into an almost empty gym (huh??) There was one other woman doing yoga and a younger guy on a bike.
The front desk lady smiled with a big happy, “Good Morning! Welcome back!”

It was quiet. Peaceful. Clean. Light. Everything in its place. No caution tape (I have Caution Tape PTSD now thank-you-very-much). I asked if there were any special rules and the Happy Good Morning Welcome Back Lady said, “Nope. Just extra squirt bottles if you’d like and some of the treadmills have signs that ask you not to use them.”

I was in disbelief. She stared. I almost cried.
I found my favorite weighted fit-ball and put in my ear buds and did warm up wall-bounces and felt my body say omg yeessssss…

Halfway through my first warm up set of assisted pull ups I just stopped to hang and stretch and be thankful.
“Oh My God that feels good,” I whisper-prayed (you know how when you’re wearing ear buds and the rock music is up and kick ass and you think you’re whisper-praying quietly just to yourself and it’s really not so quietly just to yourself? Yeah, that).
The yoga lady moved her mat.

For a little over an hour I just moved and let my body push and pull and stretch. Two people left. Two more came.

My own personal private peaceful reentry into life.
I’m going to be so sore tomorrow.
I can’t wait.
I’m so thankful.
It’s over. Thank You God it’s over.

Middle Age Dog

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (whoever the proverbial misplaced pronoun “they” is). It’s a good thing, then, that I’m not old. Old-er maybe; but not old. I wonder if a Middle Age dog can learn new tricks.

I started this blog to keep a running update of my Middle Age Life adventure. As I do get older and move into new life-phases, I thought it would be cool to document the journey, and in doing so perhaps give others ideas. I like to write. It helps me be objective; as least as much as I can be.

That said, it’s been a helluva first year.

A little over a year ago we decided to get debt free. We made plans, started to work them, set timelines and budget goals, adapted, reorganized, reevaluated, communicated, measured, planned some more, communicated a bunch more, and adapted the new plans some more. We never stopped moving forward. Even though we ran into bogs that we had to work around, over, or through, we slogged on. We sold everything (except the Baby House), paid off everything, and moved into a smallish 4th floor condo in the same town.

A short time thereafter, Rachel quit her medical management job and is in the midst of taking a 1 year sabbatical. We’re now a one income, 4th-floor-living, debt free Sugar Daddy couple. I’m soon to be 59. That brings us current.

If this blog is to be of any use, to me or anyone else, I want and need to keep documenting what’s going on. Where we are. Where we’re going. Because there are things going on. It might seem like the pace has slowed a bit, and perhaps in some ways it has. But in other, more unseen ways, there’s still big-C Change happening.

Case in point: this is my first spring without living in a full size house in close to 30 years. I’m a guy that was raised on chores, projects, upkeep, and repairing. I was taught to take great pride in where I lived, and to always make it the best it could be, no matter where or what it was. Weekends and most afternoons were Man-chore days. To me, keeping things nice is an act of showing thanks to God for what He has given me. Even a dirt floor shack should be organized and clutter-free (and have clean dirt floors).

But now I’m on the 4th floor.
It’s well decorated, clean, sunny, airy, open, and, if I’m being honest, and why wouldn’t I be, I’m beginning to miss. Something.

I’m not quite sure what to do with spare time. There are no projects. Nothing needs to be fixed, and if it does, I call a guy.
I read, workout, bike ride, clean, and still, afternoons and weekends are challenging. I hate resting. And one should only rest when there’s something to rest from (like splitting a cord of wood).

I might actually be a little bored. I might also just be having a day. I’m known to have days. On said days, I usually do something that conjures the phrase, “Well, shit.” It’s often followed up at some future point with, “That wasn’t how that was supposed to go,” or, “…seemed like a good idea at the time.” Often, those are also then later followed up with, “It’s ok. I think I can fix that.”

Either way, I’m in a twist today.

My balcony farm crops aren’t growing fast enough to harvest yet. Knocking down walls seems to be against some silly policy. So, too, vacuuming the halls at 7am. I applied twice to the management company here for part time work; the pool needs a pool sheriff (if that’s not a thing it should be) to keep #113’s shitbird kids in line, the gym needs a trainer, and most of the trash cans are more than half full; extremis.
Nope.

The stainless in the elevator needs cleaning and the doors squeak; still no. I could do the grounds way better than the lawn service that leaves brown spots.
Uh-uh.
Fine.

I applied for weekend and summer weekday work at Lowe’s and Walmart. I even answered 6 straight times the question “On a competitive scale of 1-10, 1 being a mamby-pamby team player and 10 being a highly Man-competitive Man”, I hammer-clicked the 10 button several times and additionally commented, “I eat my competitor’s bones for breakfast! Two Chickens!!” (ok, I added the mamby-pamby part but I’m pretty sure it said Man-competive Man).
Silence.
Fine.

I took a long bike ride today and ended up in a neighborhood. I rode up and down each street, making a mental list of Man-chores for the owner, and wondered if the owner was a dub (dub is a Maine term. I first learned it as a boy when my dad and I watched a man trying to spin-cast a fishing lure from a dock. He almost fell in twice and every cast splashed right at his feet. “Look-a this dub,” Dad said). Probably not very nice of me but like I said, I was in a twist.

I got home and took out the Man-scoot and went for a ride. I thought it might help because it’s loud and I look like a biker and give other bikers the down-lo sign. I swung by the the local park to check out the outside fitness area since I thought it would be open by now. Nope. Caution tape makes me insane when there is no danger. Put there by dubs no doubt.

I roared back into the garage and went up to investigate this park tape nonsense. In retrospect, it was unnecessary to rev the Man-scoot as loud as I did pulling into the garage but it echoed and smelled like gas (plus, I’m thinking hearing aids are Middle Age vogue these days anyways). The city park office was closed but had a Facebook page so I fired off a private message about needing unending super-sets and the only caution needed might be for park-bike-hater granny’s ShitZoo.
Thanks for asking. No. We’ll know more soon. Shih Tzu
Capital G Grr. Teeth-clenching. Fine.

I thought about going down to the new construction site and restacking the river rock construction pile. The dubs that did it had done an inferior job. Then I thought about taking my pick axe and redirecting the irrigation ditch so that it flows more efficiently. The new construction 6 foot commercial planters are spaced wrong, the hot tub looks dirty, the pool should be uncovered by now (dubs), and the stacks of lawn chairs should be cleaned and reset geometrically.

My death grip on the balcony rail made my forearms look strong in the sun. Sigh. I watered the crops, sat down, sighed again, opened a beer since I hadn’t done anything to earn a fine martini (Gin, of course), and watched the #113 shitbirds chasing each other on the open area brown-spotty grass.

I’m not good at being bored (ok, I suck at being bored). It’s very uncomfortable. I get into trouble. I feel like I’m wasting life. I need to do something. When I say do, I mean, do.
Reading is not doing. Talking is not doing. Siting still is not doing:
“What’cha’doin?” “Nothing.”
“What’cha’doin?” “Restacking this giant pile of dub-stacked river-rocks, of course.”
See?

Plus, how’s a man supposed to enjoy a fine Martini (Gin, of course) at Day’s End when he hasn’t earned it? Ever seen a dub drinking a fine Martini (Gin, of course) at Day’s End?
Well there ya’ go.

I reflected and projected as I tried to wind myself down and dismiss the get-in-trouble bad ideas that the PBR part of my brain was offering the fine Martini (Gin, of course) part of my brain.

I expect we’ll own a house again, someday. Somedays are hard. There’s no action in Someday, nothing to grab hold of, no tools needed. But I know it won’t be too many years from now. We have the Baby House still, but we’re not there alot yet. We’re not sure where or when our next primary home might be, although it is making for intriguing dialogue. I’m not sure anywhere is off limits (except maybe Utah. Can’t get a decent fine Martini (Gin, of course) in Utah. The next house will probably be smaller, probably be in an over-55 kind of place, have a little lawn for crops, a pool and hot tub, good neighbors, and need lots of tools.

In reflecting, I feel restless, purposeless. Nothing to charge at. Going slow is another thing I’m not good at.

I’m not panicked. I know I’m in a Life-season. Big-C Change has happened in little time; it can become routine to live at that pace. Selling The House of Wales was a big one for alot of reasons. I do know that I have no regrets, which is significant. It was time to do what we did, and we were purposed to do it.

And I do remember how sometimes I would tire of the relentless upkeep; lawn, pool, gardens, hot tub, wood, irrigation, camper, boat, dam-delions and that frickin’ thorny rose bush (I did beat it though).

So I guess I’m a Middle Age dog trying to learn new tricks. Or maybe unlearn old ones. At least for the short term. And, I’m not sure unending repetitive yard and house work (and the commensurate funds) is the best way to invest in life. Man v. Nature is good, but I wonder if at some point I might have looked back and thought, Geeze I spent alot of life trying to repel the effects of time. I do know I was always proud when I looked back over the day and could see what I had accomplished. Maybe it was being proud of each day and how I spent it.

It’s ok to wrestle. And be restless. To desire adventure and new chapters and full days and feeling like you’re firing on all cylinders. Maybe some new things won’t work, but many will. It’s ok to see pros and cons, debits and credits, weigh it all out; to look and go without needing a final judgement just yet.

It means I want more.
It means I still have journey and adventure and hope.
And hope always becomes plans.
And plans become actions.
And actions, adventure.

I plan to be learning new tricks for a long, long time.

But for right now, I need to call a guy because the screen door is stuck.
Gr.

Middle Age 4th Floor Farming

There’s just something about dirt. It makes me feel good. I mean the dirt that’s earth. Soil. And planting in it. Having my hands in it. Having it on my clothes because I’m working in it. Cathartic. Therapeutic. It smells and feels like life and sun and rightness.

I did some research when we decided we’d have our first 4th floor patio garden. Just because we’re 40 feet up and a bit fenced in for room is no reason to not have our summer Man-garden (a Man garden is just like a regular garden only I put on my Man-gloves and Man-boots and grab some Man-tools and say things like, “headed out. Be back afore serious dark“). We knew we wanted lettuce (two kinds), kale, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, several kinds of herbs, several kinds of flowers (Man-sunflowers of course), and we added a bird feeder so I could call in the local wildlife.

So, we gassed up the Man-rig and headed to Lowe’s at sunup (Ok not quite sunup; coffee and a Man-potion are must-haves). As you might guess, the trip proved to be its own special kind of adventure. Mostly because it’s spring, it’s the first nice weekend we’ve had, we went three times (well? what?), and the card reader system crashed (which apparently is a code 70). The lack of parking and carts was foreshadowing I should have recognized. It was like Disney World without the rides or Mickey (although I did see some pretty unique sights). It was the longest line I’ve ever seen. That said, all I have to say about it is God Bless Americans. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to make where we live beautiful. Come Hell-er-highwater, we won’t be denied our dandelion killer.

We made it back after the 3rd trip and called it a good campaign (pretty sure the manager had declared martial law as we were leaving). We had everything we wanted between stands, pots, seeds, and plants and spent the afternoon transforming the End-of-Day Martini Patio into the End-of-Day Martini Man-Garden. The only real setback was the woopsie when I dumped a whole bag of potting soil onto the kitchen floor (if it ain’t dangerous it ain’t Man).

I’m anxious to see what grows. I’m anxious to taste really fresh salads. I’m anxious to have fresh mint in the End-of-Day Man-Martini. If it’s like most things I do, I’ve way over done it and the management here will at some point knock the door and inform us that our cucumbers have trespassed to the floor below (which is when I’ll smile and puff my chest and reply, “heh-heh. Well a course they have”).

Life is good. Things are good. We are blessed. It’s become the time of year when we sleep with all the windows and the slider wide open. Feels like camping on a really nice bed. There’s a single robin that wakes me every morning and the sun blasts in as soon as it’s up. We’re anxious for the gym, pool, hot tub, and club house to reopen; we think it will be soon. The garage rock-and-stump workouts are sustaining for now and Rachel is painting rocks and secretly decorating the premises. She’s also creating coasters that have become quite poplar. We just moved into a bigger garage so I can get the Man-scoot in and out without moving the car.

After an uncomfortable pause, we’re back to our plan making. It’s so good for the spirit. I’m looking for a summer gig of some sort (Mark’s Man-Gardens?) I’ve got the names of one Florida and two Bahamian catamaran companies and we’re opening talks about where and when the next Casa Plummer might be. I’m looking at investing options for the corona check. We talk often of AirBnBs in Florida or the coast of Maine. I think there’s a trip to the Oregon Coast when it opens. I read a few pages of Fankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to Rachel every afternoon as we rap up and then we unpack it a bit while throwing something healthy on the barbie.

The 5’oclock hour approaches, and with it the end of day, even for a Sunday. Time to grab Frankl, make something nice, and head out to the Man-Garden; to smell the fresh dirt and listen for the robin to start his evening song.

Middle Age Hope Plans

I get most of my best ideas in two places: the shower and while working out. I know that last one is a When and not a Where, but since for most of my life I’ve usually worked out in a gym, I still think of it as a where. I’m not sure what if anything those two places or activities have in common, but the fact still holds. I have actually thought about working out in the shower for the potential double-whammy affect, but any amount of even half-serious processing along those lines quickly raises some obvious concerns (although, I do make noises in both places. Is that weird? Sidebar: When’s the last time you read anything with the term double-whammy? Yep. Right here).

Incidentally, I’m having some of the most intense workouts in my life (with lots of noises. I mean, not like those crazy-loud powerlifter noises, but…is this getting weird?). I’m using, true to my business namesake, only items found at home. Or the garage. Along with fit bands and tubes. And OK one thing from under the front seat of the truck (is that weird?) I introduced Rachel to the secret knowledge today. She’s already the good kind of sore. I’m probably the leanest I’ve been in years, don’t have joint pain, and am starting to get some real definition in my abs. I’m aware I’m probably getting smaller from lack of heavier weights (maybe if I made more noise?) I’m thinking about creating some vids to throw up on the social sites in the hopes it might save some folks their sanity. It sucks when a significant aspect of life just sort of evaporates (first world problem, I know).

Like most, I’ve seen a little change in life of late. To be honest, I’m getting resistant to hearing any more about it. I get being informed and being smart, and I am, but please, dear God, no more of the same. Everything, everything, is about that, or about not thinking about that, or about how life can be lived with, in, around, or without that, or getting or not getting that, or re-getting that, or when that might not be that anymore.

I’m so ready to focus on spring and patio tomato planters. Weekend outings to the desert. Long bike rides.

That said, on some level things like this are good for me. It reminds me to not be whiny, and to remember and specifically note the gifts of hot water, electricity, a good pillow and bed, sight, an over-abundance of food, music, work, sun when it’s out, my legs, and the myriad of other over-the-top gifts that I so over-take-for-granted every day.

Additionally, some other really cool things are happening. Contrary to Dave (God bless you Dave), Rachel and I pay most of our recurring bills using a credit card. We call it the Bill Card (clever, yes?). We earn 2% cash points. We’ve never once paid interest or late charges, there is no fee, and we have accumulated $336.42 to use as we see fit (we promised each other we’d cut up the card if we ever paid even one dollar of interest). We’re thinking of using it to pay for a couple of round-trip tickets to the Baby House. Ah, sun. Free sun. The best. I know the idea is controversial, and the discipline and watch care required is real. It’s working for us and it’s fun to think we’re getting paid to act like grownups.

Rachel’s work sabbatical is going well. By using the same discipline and watch care, we are still ending up at the end of each month with money left over. I like that because it allows us to continue to give. Not like we were giving, but that’s a heart thing more than it is a wallet thing. And (biggie here), we’re not even drinking Bottom Shelf (BS).
Right? I know. I mean c’mon.

And speaking of bottom shelf, here comes a mouth-watery from-left-field Oh-Em-Gee-zinger. We brought all the fresh grapefruit back from the Baby House Grapefruit tree the last time we were there (you already know where I’m going with this huh?) If you have not tried a soon-to-be-fah-reakin’-famous Baby House Fresh Grapefruit Martini, feel free to get on the Plummer-Condo-4th-Floor-Happy-Hour-Drinks-on-the-Balcony list. Ok, they’re actually even better on the deck of the Baby House, under the soon-to-be-famous Baby House Grapefruit tree, but in my best Tony impression: Bettah than Gabbagoo!

Seriously though. If you did have a care in the world, that’d fix ‘er.

I must admit to intermittently wearing a sly grin a bit as of late (I’m kind of a shitbird sometimes) when I read about many public education teachers moving to the online environment. Some (not all) teachers were (are) public-protest critics of online learning, claiming all sorts of detrimental effects and ill-awfulness. Much of the protest seemed to be centered around the best interest of the union rather than the best interest of the student, but no matter. Some kids are learning some cool news ways to learn and teachers cool new ways to teach. To be fair, many teachers are setting good examples by embracing the change of online education. And that, perhaps, is the best lesson of all.

I talked to my mom (Ma) today like I do about every other day. Dad got stuck in the backyard ditch this morning. Not with a car or any sort of vehicle; he himself got stuck in the ditch. Apparently it’s a new ditch. Who can know these things. He falls down alot. Last month they found him in the snowbank. Literally. Like a cartoon with his feet sticking up. Last summer he laid in the rain for some time behind the shed (seems there was a piece of shed-gutter out of place). It doesn’t seem to bother him though, which to me is admirable. He’s going to do what he’s going to do with the life he has left. He’s an ex-Maine State Trooper, so hardly any surprise there. There’s a Dad blog in my future.

Near as I could piece together of the Ditch Incident, the neighbor (?) took more cement blocks than he was entitled to (?) after the fence came down (??) and used them in said ditch. Dad got a hair and decided he wanted some back and got stuck. Neighbors responded, general confusion and excitement reigned, a rescue operation ensued using shed tools, and life returned to normal (whatever that is). It didn’t seem to bother mom or dad a bit; “just anuthu day.”
I told her her life was “wicked excitin’.”
All of this, understandably, gives me motivation to pray alot about my own aging.

I have noticed one other kind of sad thing as my folks age. Long term hopes and plans seem to have faded and become unpredictable. They are both in their mid-80’s. Once they were so vibrant and able, and the talk was often of the coming summer, spring, fall, and of trips and projects (always the projects), and redoing and rebuilding. It was only good sense to make plans for the future, and once made, the wheels of hope were attached and the conveyance traveled through all aspects of daily conversation, finances, arrangements, and just life in general. This is how I was raised.

There was not just today and tomorrow and this week, there were always coming seasons and with them these excited Hope Plans. The Hope of something and getting closer to it with each day and the joy of life that it brought, and the Plans that made it definite and timed and real. This cart of Hope Plans carried energy and optimism and conversation and meaning and happiness and soul-health.

But it’s different now. There is little talk of distant plans or projects. The weather is always a mandatory conversation piece, but it’s often “too” something: too hot / cold / rainy / windy / wet / snowy. After the weather, the talk is mostly about today, maybe a little about tomorrow, and at most this week; but after that it denigrates into the pessimism of not being able to plan anything. Life is so unpredictable, capabilities are no longer certain, the What-Ifs and Who-knows stand so tall and looming, and the news is so scary. At times mom seems a little down. And how could she not be; Hope Plans have become Maybe Somedays or just nothing at all.

While working out (and making noises) in the garage this morning, I was thinking about why I felt a bit down. I am so blessed. But it came to me that I’m like my mom in this way. Even in my blessings, in order to really feel alive (ok, and not sad), I need to know there are definites out there. Not Maybe Somedays. Not We’ll See How it Goes. Not depends On. I need Real. With Dates. And Costs. Adventures. Trips. Projects. Challenges. I need We’re Gonnas.
I need Hope Plans.

I don’t have the answers just yet (might need a few more noise-making workout or showers. This is getting kind of weird, huh?) But at least I know what’s going on with me.

Hope is such a powerful thing. Real hope with real plans. Right now, I’m trying to make small but definite hope plans; at least one for each weekend. Some small thing to give me something to look forward to. It’s healthy for me and I need to have something real out there and anticipate it getting closer. I need to move towards it with aggression, and faith, and expectancy (and maybe even some noises).

What’s the worst that could happen?