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. 

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?

Ain’t That America

If you’re like me (it’s OK here to breathe a sigh and whisper “Oh thank God I’m not”), your internal dialogue runs constantly. I do pretty well keeping it internal. Most times. Sometimes, for us writers, our internal dialogues find their way to a blog. I guess this is the manifestation of a Sunday morning 9-second internal dialogue.

I was getting a little computer work done Saturday evening and doing my best to not ingest the sensationalist diatribe on recent media. Not easy but certainly doable, and a worthy goal. I’ve been reading Victor Fankl’s “The Meaning of Life,” and contemplating a people that lived in a time of truly, for me, unimaginable pain and darkness. It’s a wonderfully crafted work but not a fun or easy read and I have to take it in doses. I mean doses in the truest sense of the word. It’s good medicine for the soul, but geeze, it tastes mentally awful.

Rachel had just set before me a thing of great beauty, art, and love; my Saturday evening end-of-day, all-chores-done, Gin Man-Martini. As she sat down she whispered something that I did not quite catch but often don’t on the first go. After a minute I gave my usual half-assed, I-kinda-wasn’t-really-listening utterance that finished in a vocally upturned ending.

“Mmmmm?” I didn’t look up. I get a bit myopic when I work.
“Something-something-something-something gin”
“Mm.” My brain kept working on it. I’ve been accused of being able to keep working while someone burns the house down around me. I’m not sure why anyone would do that but I’m not entirely sure it’s not at least a little bit accurate. Sometimes the non-worky part of my brain goes to sleep while the worky part does all the heavy lifting. Sometimes the sleepy part gets all prickly when it wakes back up.

“Sorry babe.” My non-worky brain was starting to feel like a billion little needles. “One more time.”
“We’re out of gin.” Smile.

I wish I could explain the myriad sensations and questions I experienced in the proceeding quarter of a second.
Suffice it to say, I panicked.

How could this have happened?
What did this mean for me and my future?
Why was life so unfair?
How could you say that to me?
I don’t want to live in Gulag.
I should get online quickly and learn the route to the closest available remedy.
Where was my credit card?
I should arm myself.
Will drinking mouthwash really kill me?
Who is to blame here?
I thought this was America, not some Gin-less Third World (GTW) freakin’ country.
We won’t make it.
Where are my shoes?
Is my underwear clean?
I want my mommy.

I think I got the look on my face like the abominable snowman when he realized Hermie had pulled all his teeth.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Page 6 - Holiday Central Photos - CBS.com

And then, two seconds after the quarter second, the really awake part of my brain bitch-slapped the prickly side of my brain and said, “Stop it.”

I saw my shoes.
I wasn’t even wearing underwear.
Rachel was looking at me with concerned love and a smile.
“What’re we watching tonight?”

Thankfully I was already one really-fine sip in and cooler, Man-thoughts prevailed. We made a very calm plan to get to the packy the next day and pick up some gin and those really nice extra big martini olives and to continue finishing the final season of Sopranos (am I the last person on the planet to learn how good this show is? I’m practicing my Tony around the house: Wha-ya-gonndo-boutit). I was proud of myself for overcoming the panic.

We got to the packy the next day after live-streaming church. What an amazingly cool time to be on the planet. We’re liking a new Gin. New Amsterdam. It’s very floral and took me a bit to relish, but oh-now-trust-me, I’m relishing the AF out of it (I’m 58; leave it alone). On the way back we stopped at a local smaller store to get some veggies to grill. We’re leaning more vegetarian these days in a very quiet way. We grabbed some tofu to grill as well.

The store was buzzy and we parked out a bit. It’s always buzzy on Sundays. We didn’t get everything we wanted but we were open to new options and the produce section smelled like freshness. We found some new thing that looked like it might be fun to grill and had lots of vitamins. People were in a bit of a hurry. Nothing new there. The lines were long but we were in no great rush (having secured gin of course) and we expected to wait a bit. John Cougar Mellencamp’s Ain’t That America was playing overhead. I like that song.

While in the checkout line I met Alejandra who has a daughter and new granddaughter in San Francisco and apparently also has great predilection for Lunchables and bleach. Alejandra had alot of pictures on her phone. Alot. She was very nice and laughed alot too.

The older guy behind me had three stepdaughters from two wives and one girlfriend (I’m so not good following familial trees) and knew how to butcher cows and owned a .300 magnum and knew where to go shoot a cow. I wasn’t sure he’d need that caliber and velocity to shoot a domestic cow, but held my own. He seemed very proud of his skill set and reminded me a bit of my senile dad. Further ahead the lines parted and I said my goodbyes to Alejandra and Cow Shooter Guy.

The checkout girl was in support of societal lock down and I said I was sorry her day was bumpy and thanked her for using the bags we brought. Like my EMT son and ER nurse daughter in law, her life has been fuller than usual lately and she was understandably ready to normalize. I offered her my Monopoly cards but I guess she’s not allowed to play. The pink hair girl who took my cart likes working on Sundays because there is different energy. She can’t play the Monopoly game either. I grabbed the bags and waited for Rachel to get the receipt.

I stood beside phone guy along the wall. It’s odd the gyrations people go through when their phone rings and it’s in their pocket. It looked like a third ring might bring a jaw-clamping electric shock or maybe the miss of Publisher’s Clearing House next Millionaire call. In the next 9 seconds I wrote this blog in my head.

From what I could piece together, someone was checking on his progress. His cart boasted a successful hunt that supported proud regaling. His responses surprised me so much that I had to look at him and thought he might be an alien.

Alien phone guy said, “awful,” “craziness,” “wiped clean,” (twice), “insanity,” a few resigned yeps and nopes, a finally “ridiculous,” and ended the call.
He caught me staring.
He really was an alien.

Wiped clean? Wiped Clean? For the love of God, wiped clean? Are you blind? Have you not just walked every one of the 23 aisles in this wonderful store? Have you just not seen more food in one place at one time than most of the world sees in a month or a year? Did you not just spend a one hour fantasy stroll in a luxurious place of choices and options and freshness and best-if-eaten-by dates and mist sprayers?

Insanity? Insanity? Did someone just not ask you how your day was? Did you not see that muscle car pause for crosswalk granny? Were you not offered game cards for whatever fantasy you might enjoy? Are we not all talking nicely as we stand in line and wait?

Awful and craziness? Awful? Craziness? Are you not pushing that weighted cart? Breathing clean air? Financially well enough to have a cell phone? Wearing nice clothes? Free to leave this store and drive any direction you choose? Did you not meet Alejandro who has a new granddaughter? How about Cow Shooter Guy who knows cool things? Do you not love Ain’t That America?

We got in the car and I sat for a second.
Alien phone guy made me a bit sad.
We. Have. SO. Much.
You. are. SO. blind.

Funny how different people see things, hear things, experience things.
I wonder of Viktor Fraknl. I can’t stop humming Mellencamp’s song. Little pink houses for you and me.

Tonight, when I sit down to my end-of-day, chores-are-done martini, I’m going to get a little bit emotional, lift my glass in thanks to God, not be able to really find the right words, think of Frankl and little pink houses, and whisper my best Tony “Salute.”

Middle Age Maxims (part one)

I start each day reading. Early. In the dark. In the quiet dark. I eschew light like a vampire and sound like a black ninja. I read from my phone with the screen set to its darkest setting, my robe wrapped tight, my Tom Brady fluffy slippers keeping the tootsies warm, and my beanie hat pulled down as far over my face as will still allow for deciphering letters and any necessary slow navigation. Because my right eye does not usually open for a significant amount of time after I wake, and because I’m looking through one eye through my beanie hat in the dark, any navigation is slow navigation. I have the coffee process memorized so it does not require light, sight, or sound.

Or talking. Mornings are not for communicating. Mornings are for not communicating unless you’re a songbird or rooster. All other nonsense can wait.
If I must communicate (like if the house is on fire and I need to notify Rachel), I whisper.

It is in this fashion that I also descend in the elevator to the ground floor after reading and traverse the dark parking lot enroute the hot tub for my dark quiet morning soak. Those stories are for another post.

Lately it seems it’s getting harder to find anything worth reading. So much rubbish out there. I try to stay away from most things political, because all politics is all politics, regardless of the election cycle or year or person or issue. I vote; and I also believe in more do less talk. I steer away from things that are cynical. My day will hold sufficient challenges. E-books are great, and I’m still picking through Tribe of Mentors.

Many of the other headlines in my several feeds, which I thought I had meticulously crafted, are assumptive; assuming a premise, usually unstated, that I am apparently expected to assent to prior to reading: Why Eating Healthy is Ruining Your Sex Life or
Why You’re So Unhappy.
Huh? Foryourinformation my sex life is robust and I run pretty damn happy. Even the articles that I do wander into have the meat of the information so far down the page that I become disinterested soon after clicking. Get. To. The. Point.
And one errant feed click and I’m off the res for good.

I’m taking a re-certification course for work. It’s the last of three that will earn me the six credits I need to carry me for another five years. The courses are book studies; informal and self paced, which I love, and they have introduced me to readings that I would not have otherwise picked up. It’s provided some limited but quality input.

The most recent course asked me to list three to five words that I thought were my core values. No sentences; the values were to be distilled to one word each. That was fun. And hard. I was surprised by what I came up with. But that’s good fodder for another future blog as well.

An offshoot of distilling those core values was a desire and habit to start jotting down life-thoughts; life-axioms, at least for me. They come to me in the morning, as I’m reading, or sometimes after a certain situation from which I think I’ve extrapolated a truth (Ok and also after my first good martini). I don’t hold these truths to be anything that would interest a populace. They are my truths, but you’re reading the blog, so see what you think. Take no offense and mount no counter. If we’re ever together, I’d love the chance to share a drink and pull them apart with you:

-There are things that will happen today. Your button will get pushed. Be a reflective practitioner. Be really good at what you do, regardless of how someone might try to knock you off course.

-Start early each day by creating a fantasy list of what you’d like to celebrate accomplishing when you sit down to enjoy your end-of-day martini. Then make it a little more realistic, with a few extras tossed in. Call it My Martini List. Look forward to the end of day because of how good you’ll feel and how good that first sip will be. Sip it slowly, and tell someone how good it is.   

-Mostly, taking the high road means being quiet. Measure your words. You’ll know when it’s time to speak because you’ll become calm.

-It’s hard to punch someone who’s trying to shake your hand. 

-It’s ok to be unsure. It’s ok to tell someone you’re unsure. It’s not a weakness because you know you’re already making a plan to get the right answer and you’ll have it soon. 

-It’s work. It’s ok to not love every day. That’d just be weird and would make you annoying (And you’d be in desperate need of a life).

-You’ll never regret what you don’t say. Not really. Despite the fictional applause you hear in the shower as you reinvent both sides of the conversation and emerge amazingly victorious, no one is taught a lesson during those moments. Silence is hauntingly powerful.

-Everyone gets to live their time in this realm as they choose. I didn’t make the rules, God did. When their choices impact you, choose to live your life in this realm as you choose.

-If you’re quiet, people will tell you a lot of stuff. If you ask the right questions, people will tell you everything.

-It’s easy to compliment people in genuine ways.

-Being cynical and being lazy is the same thing.

-Know your long game and let your short game loosen up. You’ll be happier.

-If you’re talking more than other people in the group, restrict yourself to only questions for an hour. There’s a reason why people hate work conferences.

-Listen to people without adding your fat thumb to the scale of shared experiences. If they want to know, they’ll ask. Keeping up is annoying.

-Happiness is not a schedule-free life. Happiness is the freedom to create your own schedule. 

-When you build story in your head about something that was said, lean heavily towards how awfully most people communicate.

So there it is. Just some things that came to me over the last month or so. If you’re reading, hopefully you find them somewhat more useful than Why Intelligent People are Miserable.

Good At and Good For

As Rachel and I continue our Middle Age life-journey of discovery, we’re continuing to learn and grow. That is, after all, the purpose, yes? Or at least one of them.

It can be interesting the things we find ourselves doing in making our lives here on the planet. We are often initially measured by the ubiquitous question: “So, what do you do?People mean, of course, how we pay the mortgage, not how we act when we’re home alone for the day (and that’s a very good thing). I get asked it alot when I fly, and despite the kind nod and smile, the look is a dead give away that says, “I have no idea what the words you just said mean.” I’ve tried changing up the phrasing, but the results are the same.

The question is kind and innocuous enough I guess. I suppose what we do might say something about us. Some people seem to know almost from birth their vocation path, as if they are selected and designed for just one option; a calling if you will. Lucky bastards. Most of us, not so much.

Most of of us bang around and eventfully find a niche. We settle in to an acceptable and mostly enjoyable job. Maybe we’re not necessarily designed for it, but maybe we’re the type of people that could do alot of things pretty well (I thought for awhile I’d work at Sears selling furniture and be That Guy who knows an awful lot about recliner construction).

We start a path, grow a family, take on the weight of debt, grow social roots, get comfy, and surround ourselves with what we do. There’s nothing wrong with that. I never intended on doing what I do now. It just sort of unfolded, one step at a time. I really like it, but if you’d have told me I’d be doing what I’m doing 20 years ago, I’d have advised you to cut back on your meds.

Knowing what you should do is hard.
Knowing what you could do it easier.
Sometimes it seems that you didn’t really choose it, you just ended up making some small decisions and ended up there.
Some were decisions of inaction and some were decisions of action.
Some decisions seemed very purposed, and some were not really sure how I got here.

It’s the same with Rachel and me. Some of the places we arrived at were because of our planning and our choices. And some of the things we chose were because they materialized suddenly based on previous choices.

Funny how that is; you can’t see new options until you move forward to a new place.

Gotta move first, and then you see.
Crest the next rise, and there they are.
Blurry shimmering somethings in the distance.
Move first, then see. I wish it was the other way around, but it’s not.

Seems like we’ve been doing alot of moving lately.

When we originally began the journey towards financial independence, it was largely for two reasons. Being debt free would allow for alot of cool options (like tropical hedonistic cruises on chartered catamarans). Paying interest sucks and so do payments. Someone told me once that it’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you owe. If you don’t owe much you can take alot of hedonistic cruises on 50 foot chartered cats (ok, I added that last part, but it’s true).

Additionally, and more importantly, the kind of work Rachel was doing was making her sick. Not metaphorically sick; physically sick. Like killing her sick. She was unwell, diagnosed with several immune deficiencies, on several medications, gaining weight, not sleeping, and was on all fronts circling the drain. We knew being out of debt would allow her to assess her life and have more freedom of choice – like choosing a hedonistic tropical cruise with free martinis. (See how it just keeps getting better?)

We also knew that if we didn’t make some big changes soon, we might be facing options that were not so fun.

But the truth is, Rachel was making alot of money and was really good at what she did. Awards and all that. High-end corporate medical management sounds flashy and important, and in many aspects it was. And at its core it was altruistic, philanthropic, and benevolent: managing people and systems that saved kid’s lives.

The paradox was entangling, at least it was for us. She was so good at it, and it was killing her. We thought maybe if we could just adopt a different mindset. Learn to handle stress better. Meditate. Visualize. Diagnose. exercise. Find just the right combination of any or all. But over time, talks, tears, getting as many perspectives as we could, and trying all sorts of approaches, a truth started to emerge:

Just because we’re good at it doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

Good at and good for.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew life had changed.

The money we had. The Good she was doing. The future it painted. It took very clear eyes and minds to not only discern the situation but also make the call to walk away. And she did walk away. We’re starting our 4th week of one income and there are lots of really cool things going on (like becoming a Sugar Daddy). I won’t steal her show and I’ll let her tell her own story as she sees fit here.

Some of the things we’ve learned and are thankful for:
– Being debt free allowed for a much broader scope of choices
– Money is only fun if life is already fun
– Money’s not worth being miserable
– Being a Sugar Daddy is awesome
– I can get pretty hedonistic in a hot tub
– Meaningful conversation is a critical aspect of life

We’re not sure what the future holds (Lord, do we ever? Do any of us?) Right now we think we’re looking at a one-year-ish sabbatical. There’s alot of healing going on (and I’m learning some really awesome new dance moves). To be honest, I’m a little afraid of what new options might suddenly jump up. I’ve already told her I do not want to be a missionary to Zimbabwe (probably no hot tubs).

The financial goals have adapted, or at least been set to pause for a bit. But get this: our original financial goal was to be debt-free in November of 2020; 11 months from now. So we’re 100% on track to meet our original plan (I just gave myself chills).

The hedonistic free martini cat vacation is still out there, oh trust me. As is the AirBnB for a month in Naples and Vermont and lots of other dreams to come. First things first. Gratefulness, health, love, family, dreams, faith, SugarDaddying, wisdom, smart choices, risk and reaching, knowing when to move, knowing when to hold.

And I guess downsizing to a 40 foot cat with free martinis would still be ok. I mean, the simple life, right?

MP