Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

The Thinker

Misery loves company

My eyes: they are burning. My nose: it is itching and it is sending occasional signals to my lungs to make me sneeze which I do explosively, usually three times in a row, followed by blowing my nose several times until inevitably the cycle repeats itself. In short I have a cold, or perhaps just cold symptoms. The former is more likely because for nearly two weeks my spouse has been under the weather too. She had one of these two-week killer colds last year about this time, and it is back. Until two days ago I had resisted acquiring whatever she had. It’s likely I have something else, but in spite of the regular sneezes from hell that hurts muscles in my back, this is actually a good sign. For me anyhow the cycle rarely varies. The explosive sneezing phase lasts a day or two, but it comes at the end. It takes a few more days for my voice to recover.

One can love one’s spouse while secretly wishing we weren’t sharing so much of our intimate space this way. The last two weeks have been like this, but not because I find my wife particularly grating. I’m used to her and her ways but when she suffers, which is about half the time, she won’t suffer in silence. She’ll let me know and I can’t do much but fetch things for her, offer sympathy and make occasional suggestions that get largely ignored (“why don’t you see a doctor?” “oh, it’s just a cold. there’s nothing they can do.”) until the misery reaches some unbearable zenith and then she is off to the urgent care clinic. Colds come and go but she also gets persistent migraines and other forms of headaches, as well as other chronic issues which effectively mean she spends what seems to me to be half her life, maybe more, in some form of misery. Doctors rarely give relief. She bears it as stoically as she can, which is not much. And so another day ends, a new day begins, and the pattern is likely to repeat.

We go through boxes of tissues at alarming rates but otherwise soldier on. Retirement is supposed to be about enjoying leisure but so far there hasn’t been too much of it. I go to bed later and wake up later, but the business of preparing our house for sale consumes much of my working day, otherwise I am doing consulting when there is work in my inbox. The consulting remains mostly pocket change, if $6000 so far this year is pocket change. The preparing the house for sale task though keeps going on, but there are signs of the edge of the forest. The kitchen gets repainted tomorrow and that is likely the last room to get a full coat of paint.

Between moaning in misery about her own condition, my wife chastised me today for working on the house when I am sick. Experience suggests I will spend the day sneezing regardless, so my feeling is I may as well work, which today involved mostly laying masking tape along edges of floors and cabinets in the kitchen, and painting the baseboards in that room. It’s what I do. I just sort of soldier on because if this is a cold then it’s a minor one, so I might as well keep going. It beats dwelling about how I don’t feel great. The fix up list keeps expanding somehow, but I also know our clock is running out. With my wife out of commission so much, I must take up her slack and that usually means painting something but occasionally involves some minor carpentry, shuffling off donations to places that will take them, or two nights ago, installing some new blinds in our front windows.

Despite the continuous minor construction, the house is looking good. I feel good about all the work and the $7000 or so in direct expenses so far since I retired trying to make the house look new instead of 30 years old. Yesterday I was touch up painting. A new carpet went down in the basement a couple of weeks ago. It looks good and for the first time in the 21 years we’ve been in the house, the basement actually feels warmish in the winter. The house is sort of battened down now with curb appeal, but inside there is still clutter that needs to be sorted through, windows that need cleaning, and more painting to be done. I am guessing we are about 85% done at this point. The hard stuff is largely behind us.

It sometimes seems surreal that we are likely to be moving within three to six months. We had our realtor at our house yesterday and penciled in March 1 as the date to list the house, but maybe February 1. It all depends on decisions not firmly made yet, and one involves whether to have a house constructed near where we plan to live near Northampton, Massachusetts. If so groundbreaking will have to wait until spring thaw, which is usually April 1, and construction will take about six months. House selling though is best done in the spring. It’s peak market and selling at other times of the year is problematic. This means temporary housing is likely in our future, something we are not looking forward to but will likely have to deal with. On the plus side it’s relatively easy to move 5 miles instead of 400.

Our Christmas lights are up on the porch for the last time. The tree will go up at some point too, largely because my daughter will expect one when she visits us on Christmas morning. My wife has done her Christmas shopping. I haven’t started it yet.

I taught my last class at Northern Virginia Community College last night, somewhat challenging as the cold symptoms had kicked in. The final exam is next Tuesday and that should end my fifteen-year off and on again teaching as an adjunct at the college. Teaching there feels comfortable now, so leaving this part of my life leaves me feeling wistful. I’m not sure if I will be able to find teaching opportunities where I end up. I may be closing this chapter in my life.

In retirement I thought I’d have plenty of time to exercise, but it’s challenging getting it in. Working around the house takes up much of my day, and involves a lot of moving around. I figure it counts. I walk around the neighborhood when I can but lots of rain has made walking outside problematic. The gym is still an option, but it’s hard to find the energy to go. Lately I’ve been going only every other week or so.

So that’s basically my life, at present.

 
The Thinker

Black Friday protest at Walmart

Remember this post? Well, probably not. Anyhow, in it I promised to try to eke revenge against the retailers of the world for the shabby way I was treated when I was a retail worker (1978 to 1980) for the now defunct Montgomery Ward Corporation which today is even worse. Now that I am retired, lack of time was no longer an excuse, so I made a note on my calendar to attend a Black Friday protest at my local Walmart (Sterling, Virginia in my case) to protest their appallingly low wages and working conditions.

Signing up was easy. I was already a member of Making Change at Walmart, the site to go if you are not a Walmart employee but want to support their cause. I get regular emails from them and have even made a couple of contributions to their strike fund over the years. I was urged to find a Walmart Black Friday protest near me, so I simply filled in the web form and marked the date and time on my calendar. For several years now, the Our Walmart campaign has targeted Black Friday for protests because it is the busiest shopping day of the year. This year a record 1600 store protests was planned.

Thus far my protesting had been confined to mass events on the national mall. This kind of protest would be a lot different. The number of protestors was likely to be small and Walmart would doubtlessly be on the lookout for us. Protest rules were pretty murky, but seemed worth whatever minor risk it entailed. This is after all Walmart: the nation’s largest, nastiest and stingiest employer. Every year they find new ways to screw their “associates”. Among their egregious tactics over the last year were requirements to buy their own uniforms, canceling health insurance for certain part time employees (doubtless few could afford it in any event), cutting the hours of workers (leading to predictably long lines at cash registers and empty shelves) and erratic schedules. All this for an average wage of $8.80 an hour and where you might get an extra dime per hour the next time your performance was reviewed.

With several weeks of notice, I wanted to see if I could convince any others to join me. Notes on Facebook did not turn up any nibbles, so I sent a note to Paul, chair of the social justice committee at my local Unitarian Universalist Church. He agreed to sponsor the protest for our church. I made sure announcements were posted in the church bulletin and hoped a few members of my congregation would join me. We have less than 200 members, so I kept my expectations modest. Fortunately for me, it got the attention of certain influential women at the church (a.k.a. the Knitting Circle, which my wife attends) who were also suitably outraged and started making protest signs. On protest day, eight of us with signs in hand were ready to protest.

However, our protest organizer weaseled out. Early on Black Friday morning we found an email from him in our inboxes. He claimed insomnia the night before and canceled the event, but he did encourage anyone that wanted to to come out and protest. We took him up on it.

I confess it was hard to get in the protesting spirit when the temperature was in the low thirties with gusty winds, but we were ready. We met in the church parking lot, collected our signs and drove out to the Sterling Virginia Walmart. As we moved toward the entrance we encountered an older couple from Illinois in town but with signs. We were it, apparently, but at least with ten protestors we got into the double digits.

Black Friday protest against Walmart's labor practices at Sterling, Virginia store

Black Friday protest against Walmart’s labor practices at Sterling, Virginia store

For 10 AM on a Black Friday, there weren’t many people going into or out of this Walmart. We stood silently outside the Walmart entrances, being careful not to impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Occasionally we got a toot of a horn or thumbs up, but mostly we stood and shivered. We had a feeling though that it would not be long before Walmart management noticed us. We were prescient. After about ten minutes, a Walmart security officer told us we were on private property and we could only protest on public property. He pointed us to a hill at the far back end of the parking lot. Dutifully we walked back there. This was not an ideal location, but it was convenient to incoming traffic so we stood there with our signs and waved them up and down as cars went by.

Apparently we were not far out enough. After fifteen minutes or so we found we were observed by officers in two cars from the Loudoun County sheriff’s office. Eventually an officer approached us with the Walmart store manager. We patiently explained we were directed here by their store security. But, no, we were still on private property we were told. Walmart owned all of it. Some sort of conglomerate of course typically owns shopping centers, so it is in theory all private property. It’s pretty clear that Walmart wanted us way out of the way, like outer Siberia if possible. The closest truly public property, we were politely informed, was a median strip on Nokes Boulevard, which led into the parking lot.

And so we shuffled out there with our protest signs, dodging aggressive traffic to do so. We got the occasional thumbs up and toot of a horn in support, but mostly Walmart had gotten us out of the way, which is probably the strategy it emulated at many other stores. Had we had more protesters, perhaps we would have been harder to dislodge. After about an hour we ended our protest and moved on.

Nonetheless we were in reasonably high spirits. Without professional organization, we didn’t know what to expect or what was legal, but Walmart’s response felt very scripted. The store manager was never angry with us, but after the event one of our crew took a few of our signs into the store, and tried to give them to the store manager. She was intercepted by an assistant manager, and told she was unwelcome in the store, and ordered to leave.

Making change at Walmart is hard, not so much for us outside protesters, but certainly for Walmart employees who join the Our Walmart movement. They frequently suffer illegal firings or reduced hours. They are much braver than we were. We were just testing the protest waters, but I think I know where I’ll be next Black Friday. And hopefully we’ll be better-organized next time, and our organizer won’t use the weasely excuse of insomnia for not showing up.

As a practical matter, real change is happening in two fronts. First, many states and communities have realized that since retailers won’t raise wages and the federal government won’t, they must. So cities like Seatac in Washington State have raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour. In Northern Virginia, $15 is a living wage, but just barely. Those Walmart workers earning $8.80 an hour or so at their Sterling store are probably working a couple of other part time jobs just to get by. They may very well be getting some government assistance, which means your taxes are subsidizing Walmart and other retailers scandalously low wages. More recently, the city of San Francisco passed a retail workers bill of rights. It requires employers to make up work schedules for their part time employees two weeks in advance, helping to give them some predictability to their schedules. This addresses the sad reality that part time work these days does not supplement other wages, but is what many workers try to live on.

Do not assume that minimum wage workers are mostly students living at home and thus it’s okay to pay the $7.25 an hour. The average age of a minimum wage worker is 35. These people are hustling simply to survive in poverty. They deserve a living wage and better working conditions and hopefully just one job so they get some downtime. It’s quite clear though that Walmart will continue to frustrate and obfuscate attempts at justice for their employees until the price becomes unbearable, i.e. it seriously affects their profits and sales. I will do my part to make it unbearable.

 
The Thinker

Retirement journal: Part 2

(Note: Part 1 was actually a post I made a couple of days before I retired.)

I’m about three and a half months into this retirement thing. Aside from the first eleven days when we were on vacation, there has been little retiring (as in leisure) so far in my retirement. I understand this is typical. My father said he was never busier than when he retired. What has changed is that mostly I am doing more of what I want to do, and less of what I had to do. But also preparing our house for sale has become something of a second job.

I’ve never been one to be passive. I prefer to have things to do. Fortunately, fixing up the house forces me to move around. It also requires a certain focus. It’s not something I work on every day. Tuesdays in particular are full of other activities as I teach a class on Tuesday evening. The work involved in teaching peaks on Tuesday but teaching activities occur during the week. I grade homework. I prepare a quiz. I monitor my faculty email. I make a lesson plan. It takes roughly six hours of work to do the work to teach the class. I do it at times that are convenient to me. As classes go this one is a great one to teach and it’s a subject that I enjoy.

Managing finances is taking more time as well. This too is something I enjoy. Perhaps I should have been a banker, or a financial planner. It used to be that I would open Quicken once a week. Now it is open all the time and I add transactions as they come in. My computer, which I used to turn off every night, now stays in sleep mode at night. It hasn’t been fully powered off in weeks.

Living on a fixed income is a challenge, particularly when you don’t know what your fixed income is. That ambiguity is gone. My pension was finalized on November 2, so now I know how much of that income I have to work with. It’s pretty much what I figured it would be, which is good. Still, it’s a lot less income than I am used to, and until the house is sold we are still carrying a mortgage, just not much of one (about $23K in principle is left). Meanwhile fixing up our house for sale is hardly free. It’s a major expense. As I type this I hear hammering in the basement as carpet tack strips are laid in the rooms down there. The basement carpet is being replaced before sale. Even with the cheap carpet, the job comes to about $3000, and that includes stretching the carpet upstairs that has expanded over the years. So there is a cash flow problem at the moment and it will continue this way for some months, all while our income shrinks. It’s predictable but it’s still a little unnerving to spend more than you take in month after month.

The regular trips to Lowes and Home Depot continue, and there are other expenses where I have to pay professionals. There are some aspects about our house that no longer meet the building code. We added a second rail to the stairs going to the basement. We’d have to add it anyhow. I’ve had plumbers out twice to fix chronic issues. We found a good handyman who took care of lots of little things like patching up the deck and adding a concrete step to our front porch. These were things that I would have done if I could have. It looks though like we are almost at the end of this phase. There is still a month or so of work to do, but it’s mostly stuff I can do that is straightforward and not too costly. New chores get added regularly to my task list. The latest: an upstairs toilet seal is broken and water is leaching down to the half bathroom below it. I’ll have to repaint the ceiling of the half bath after the toilet is fixed.

Months ago I complained about how hard it is to remove the clutter and crap in a house you have lived in a long time. We are still at it! There are still boxes of stuff to dump, donate or sell even after innumerable trips to Goodwill. The other day we attacked a closet in our TV room and discovered what my wife called a wardroom to Narnia. In an old trunk were decades of science fiction magazines. There was also a camcorder someone gave to us that we never used, and my 1984 Commodore 64 computer I still can’t part with, although it’s been twenty years since I turned it on. Also in there: a Betamax VCR that we posted online. Someone will pick it up today. All this work is necessary if you are going to move but not in the least bit interesting. It takes time and money, the sort of time you only have in retirement. I can’t imagine trying to fit this in on nights and weekends while I was still working.

In addition to teaching, I am still doing some consulting, mostly for pocket change. It’s clear to me though that my business is doomed to dry up. I sell consulting services for forum software (phpBB). The phpBB group recently released a new version of the software that will be much easier for people to upgrade and maintain by themselves. So my goal of writing apps in retirement may be a better way to earn some income. I haven’t actually written any apps yet, but that’s a minor detail. In reality though I don’t have much time to learn apps right now. This is something to do after we are resettled, if I can find the time then.

My biorhythms are changing. I had no idea what they were because until retirement I’ve always risen and went to bed on someone else’s schedule. Now, I seem to get naturally sleepy around 11 PM. Also, I am sleeping more than I expected, generally a solid eight hours a night. I wake rested and stress free.

One downside of retiring is not having some place (an office) to go to daily. Teaching a class and volunteering at my church gets me out and about, but irregularly. I do miss the daily interactions with my colleagues at my former job. I am out of the office politics loop unless someone posts something on Facebook or I attend some sort of event where they are. It was truer at USGS where I ended my career, but I have had the opportunity to know interesting people everywhere I worked. It’s hard to keep in contact with them in retirement in any meaningful way. And some use the opportunity of retirement to cut you out of their lives.

Mostly though I see few downsides to retirement so far. A couple of years of experience may make me more sanguine about its downsides.

 
The Thinker

Suffer the little kitties (and humans)

It’s tough being without a cat. It’s been this way since March, when our last feline Arthur passed away. Normally there would be a grieving period (there was) and then we would be at a cat adoption agency selecting a new cat. But this assumed that we would be staying put. We’re not. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we are planning to move.

Cats may be independent but overall they are much more attached to home than dogs. They want their space and they don’t want it to ever change. Given this reality learned from cohabitating with cats for many years, we opted not to get another cat until we have resettled, likely in western Massachusetts next year.

This is an easy decision to make unless of course you are used to having cats around. Going cold turkey was not easy. I am having a somewhat easier time of it because my childhood was largely pet free. For my wife, going without a cat is a major stressor. There has almost always been at least one cat in her life. As something of a substitute, along with half the nation she watches cat videos online. Curiously she was doing that when we had a cat as well. Watching cat videos though while not having one you can pet is something like torture to her.

What to do? We are tempted to violate protocol and just get a cat anyhow, even though it will be relocated five states away in a few months. That of course is quite selfish because while living without a cat is stressful to us, it is nothing compared to the stress a cat undergoes when it gets relocated. There are exceptions of course, but overall it’s bad for the cat and bad for its owners.

Which is why we are volunteering to take care of homeless cats instead. It was actually my idea. My wife was actually getting depressed over not having a cat in her life. Watching cat videos was becoming an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Watching these videos simply drove the addiction and there was no way I could order her to stop watching them. Fortunately, we have a couple of friends who help with animal rescue and fostering of felines. They work for Four Paws, a local cat-only rescue organization. I practically ordered my wife to volunteer us already.

This ended up with a biweekly gig whereby we go to the Petco at the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Chantilly, Virginia and take care of two rescue cats staged there. The Petco is nice enough to provide a glass-enclosed room and a couple of large cages that amount to two cat condos, one stacked on top of the other. Each cat effectively has three rooms: an eating room, a pooping room and a play/rest room. It’s up to us volunteers to clean the rooms and play with the cats. During the day of course Petco customers come by to see the cats. They can’t play with them as they are behind Plexiglass but there is information about the cat and adoption forms.

Volunteering for this duty is a mixed experience. It gives us some time with actual live cats, but it’s also clear that these rescue cats don’t like being there. They are all looking for permanent homes. They seem more than a little traumatized being in a temporary home and don’t particularly like being on display like zoo animals. The sad reality of course is that for a rescued cat there are likely going to be several temporary homes before they get a permanent placement.

So these cats at the Petco tend to move in and out. Rarely are the same cats there when we visit that were there two weeks earlier. As part of the cleaning process we open their cages, allowing them to get out if they want into the enclosed area. We lock the door to the store first to make sure they cannot escape. Some cats gleefully bound out onto the cat trees in the room. Others (usually the new ones) will cower in the back of their cages. Some will let you play with them. Some will not.

Volunteers like us come by three times a day to check on them, sanitize things and make sure their litter box and food are freshened. This is far more personal care than any cat of ours ever got. Typically I cleaned the litter box twice a week and put out food once a day. The cat would then disappear until it wanted attention. This usually worked out well for both cat and human.

These cats for the most part not only resent being in the cages, but also seem obviously scared by the whole experience. There are these constant humans coming by, all smelling differently and sticking their fingers through the holes in the cage and saying inane stuff like “Here, kitty kitty.” Most of them do get placed, but occasionally an older or a black cat will stay in the condo for a few months. Sometimes they come back to the foster home because they seem too stressed by the experience. Their condos are sanitized three times a day, which might contribute to the stress. They have little opportunity to impart their odors on the cage, making it not feel like home.

Recently, my wife helped out at an adoption fair at another Petco in Fairfax sponsored by Four Paws. Dozens of cats were there in hopes some would get adopted. About half were adopted. It was clear though that the vast majority of these cats were traumatized by the experience. It’s bad enough being in a foster home, but to be put in a cage and placed in a room with lots of other cats to be poked and petted by people they did not know really stressed them out! It’s a sad but necessary process in getting them adopted. Mostly these cats live in foster homes with other cats. A typical home will have six to ten cats, carefully watched over by a volunteer.

One of the cats at this fair was a sleek black cat, a female named Cupid, who is about a year old. Our daughter Rose, who had recently moved into her own studio apartment, picked her as her very first cat (that she owned). Curiously, this black cat was brought to her forever home on Halloween. She was promptly renamed Mimi, and went to hide under the couch. Mimi is still getting acquainted with her new home and her new human, and it is likely to be a long and stressful process for Mimi. The same was true with our cat Arthur. He must have been moved around a lot because it took him about a year to accept that he was in his forever home, and always would be. Once he fully made the transition, he turned out to be a great cat.

It’s not widely known, but most cats (certainly the domesticated ones) are not native to North America. They are in fact an invasive species, and they eat or dismember billions of birds a year. So humans who choose to have cats should keep them inside, or ensure that if they have access to the outside that they can’t hurt anything.

Because cats are an invasive species we must be careful to limit their numbers. Obviously we are not doing a great job in making sure all cats are spayed. All of ours were, of course, and any cat Four Paws places are spayed or, if a kitten, the owner must agree to spay them.

As traumatic as the placement process is for most of these cats, considering the obsessive way they are catered to while in placement, some should feel jealous. Who? Our homeless, or really any of the millions of Americans struggling at the margins. These cats may be traumatized, but at least they are cared for, eat healthy food and have their medical needs attended to by regular vet visit. It makes me angry that we simply refused to do the same for those you would think would matter even more: the actual human beings around us.

 
The Thinker

Ten years later

One of the benefits of writing a blog that’s been around a really long time (this one started in December 2002) is that you occasionally get to go back and look at posts made a long time ago and compare it to where you are in the present. In July 2005 I tried imagining my life in 2015, then ten years in the future. I did it as part of a topic discussed by my covenant group. At the time, the exercise had me breaking out in a cold sweat. Then, at age 48, the idea of being 58 seemed pretty scary.

It’s not quite ten years later but it is more than nine years later. So it’s time to see how good a prognosticator I was back then.

  • I wanted to be in good health at age 58. I have subsequently learned that good health is relative. In some ways I was in worse health in 2005. I did not know I had sleep apnea back then, and even back then my sciatica was starting to make my life miserable. I’m surely no younger; in fact I am about a decade older. I take medications I never took then, but overall I am in less pain and healthier, much of it due to modern medicine. However, most of my chronic problems, like sciatica and sleep apnea, were problems that I had to figure out. No physician had diagnosed them. I had to persist and keep trying. So you can be in better health as you age, but you have to take ownership of your health and you must make it a priority. Don’t assume doctors can figure it all out for you. At best they see your problems through a gauzy curtain.
  • I wondered if I would be retired. The answer is yes; I retired in August. Back then retirement seemed very scary. How could I feel good about myself if I wasn’t doing something I felt was important to society? It turns out at least so far it’s not an issue. I am just as busy, if not more so, being retired and I have much less stress. Jobs can kill you particularly those jobs that come with lots of responsibility. A well-planned retirement where you keep engaged in stuff you like is a great blessing. I am fortunate to have started mine comfortably and long before most people do.
  • I thought if I were retired I might take up something like golf. I still have no desire to do so, in part because age has not made me more agile. But this is also because I did not expect to be so busy in retirement. That may change after we relocate. I still have goals to do more physical activity. So far in retirement that hasn’t been the case, but I have been actively fixing my house. I don’t sit in a chair as much and move around. As for golf, I’d prefer to take up mini-golf instead.
  • Would my Mr. Hyde come out? Would I do something perverted or weird like exposing myself on street corners? I’m not sure where this fear came from. The answer of course is no. In many ways the lower testosterone levels that come with age in men is a blessing. It makes it easier to stay rational and stay out of newspapers and jail cells.
  • I was worried about losing my youth. Well, you either lose it or you die. Given the alternative, losing your youth is pretty good. I didn’t have youth at 48 and I have less of it at 57. The funny thing about aging, at least for me, is you age so slowly that it doesn’t bother you very much. I still think I look pretty youthful, at least for my age. I realize it is part self-deception, or maybe even total self-deception, but as long as you think it’s true you can get through life more happily. I obviously am not attracting any younger babes, but I wasn’t at age 48 either.
  • I thought both my parents would be deceased. Thankfully, my father is still alive. My mother, however, died some months after I wrote the original post. My dad is 88. He might make it to 98. I know he wants to. Both of us aren’t counting on it. But life will go on, assuming I survive to 67, even with the passing of my father. Death is not so scary anymore; it is a path I am becoming familiar with.
  • I wondered if at 25 my daughter would be out of the house. The answer is (as of today) no. As of tomorrow: yes. The movers come tomorrow and we’ll be official empty nesters. More about that, probably, in a subsequent post.
  • I figured there was a good probability that some sort of calamity would affect me. This was in part due to witnessing 9/11 as I worked in Washington when it happened. No nuclear bombs have gone off unexpectedly near me. I may be unduly paranoid, but I still think Washington will suffer something like this in my lifetime. But experience with real life suggests I worry too much. Overall society works, just imperfectly much of the time. Bad stuff happens but a lot of good stuff that doesn’t make the press often does too. More good stuff than bad stuff must be happening, because we are still here, the money is still green and I am in a retirement zone.
  • I was worried I’d end up hating my job. That did not happen, but it did wear me out. I felt like a juggler with one too many balls in the air wondering how long it would be before I dropped one. Things changed, it got increasingly stressful and I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. Today, I am glad I retired and happy that someone likely younger and more agile will pick up the work and probably do a better job than I did. I also realize I did quite a good job overall considering the minimal resources I was given.
  • I was worried about insolvency. It’s curious what happens when we worry about the things that bug us the most. I took a lot of steps to make sure it didn’t happen, and mitigated a lot of risk through various insurance policies, including an umbrella insurance policy. It also helped to move into my peak earning years. When my daughter got out of college, I could finally save gobs of money. I can’t see insolvency happening unless there is some widespread breakdown of society. And if it happens, we’ll do better than most.

Overall, there was value in thinking about things that made me break out in a cold sweat back in 2005. Instead of fearing them, I was drawn to grapple with them. Fears and reflecting on them made me think through what is really important to me. In that sense, the exercise was valuable and it succeeded.

Life at 57 for me is quite sweet. Life at 58 I expect will be even sweeter.

 
The Thinker

Not a saint, but saintly

When I entered his hospital room, I had this strange feeling of déjà vu.

It was not so surprising. I had been here before, but it was in 2004 when my mother was in intensive care. I even blogged about it. And here it was ten years later and I was back wandering the halls of Holy Cross Hospital, in Silver Spring, Maryland. In September 2004, I was there to witness the shocking decline of my mother. She had congestive heart failure at the time and was delusional.

Ten years later it was my father in a bed at Holy Cross Hospital. At least he wasn’t delusional, as congestive heart failure is not his issue. No, it was simple pneumonia that put my father in the hospital this time, simple except he is almost 88 years old and is suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is slowly eating away his lungs. I blogged about that just two posts ago. Two posts ago my Dad was healthy, and just about ready to take a cross-country trip on an airplane to see his mentally slipping sister. I worried he’d catch pneumonia but he came back a week ago all upbeat and chipper. I congratulated him for not catching anything and reveled in having him in such high spirits in my living room at his age. My congratulations were premature.

Who knows where he got the infection that caused this pneumonia? The airplane is a likely suspect, as they are known for nasty viruses they carry including, most recently, the Ebola Virus. If so he likely had caught it on the way back east because it took a few days before symptoms appeared. It wasn’t until last night that he finally went into the hospital. It took my sister talking to him on the phone to figure out something major was going on. Words were slurred. Thoughts were expressed incoherently. There was that and that he could barely walk. The paramedics thought he’d be okay overnight. By Monday though he was wheeled by ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital and by evening he was in a room, oxygen tubes up his nose, IVs in his arms and periodic masks placed over his face forcing a vaporous mist of medicine into his lungs. The last thing his diminished lungs needed was to be clogged with more mucus. No wonder: he wasn’t getting enough oxygen and making so little sense.

Last night another sister paid a visit to him in the hospital. She reported he made sense only about half the time. He was confusing dates and facts. And it being pneumonia, he was coughing and eating very little. The good son (me) was elsewhere. I was teaching last night. It was hard to assess these events from afar but I made the calculated decision that my students should not skip class for an emergency visit from me. It worked out last night, but one of these days I feel my luck will run out.

What I did not expect when I saw him this morning was the wispy ghost of a man I found in the hospital bed. He looked half mummified. He was gaunt with a face was so white it was hard to distinguish it from his hair, or what was left of it, which was also snow white. He seemed shriveled.

It was shocking because a week earlier after returning from the west coast I enjoyed a lively conversation with a far different man. He now seemed fundamentally changed, not just a senior citizen, but elderly. No, not elderly, but ancient with skin that was no longer elastic and full of large and reddened age spots over his arms and legs. The image that came to my mind was that of the last days of my mother nine years ago. It was an image that recalled someone not just on the precipice of death, but someone who had teetered off the precipice and had begun the fall. In 2005 my mother looked much like my father did today: ghostly white, and with her dark hair all a sickly greyish white. Given this is at least my father’s third bout with pneumonia, it was hard not to project that maybe his time had come too.

To my great relief, he was at least rested and back to his usual mental sharpness. The more time I spent with him, be more color returned to his pallid face. Still, there was no masking his gauntness or his disinterest in the food in front of him. I even brought brownies. Chocolate is his primary weakness but today he expressed no particular interest in the brownies. Most of his breakfast had been left untouched.

Health care professionals shuffled in and out as did clergy. The first clergy member was actually a Methodist minister, not quite what the spiritual doctor would order for this devout Catholic. A few hours later a priest showed up and prayed with him and gave him a blessing for the sick, which he surely was.

My father could look more ghostly than human but his personality was still there. He likes to hand out complements lavishly and started handing them to me. He is such a gentle and good man, but not all complements he hands out are necessarily correct. He may be shriveled, but I am but a shadow of the man that he is. My father instinctively finds some good in everyone, something I have a hard time doing. He believes we are all kind and loving people by nature, despite obvious indications that we are not. He may not be a saint. I have not seen him perform any miracles. But he is saintly, and a near perfect role model of a human being, even in the hospital with tubes running in and out of him, even with his body a mess and his lungs slowly deteriorating. My father’s essence shines out no matter how bleak the circumstances.

In a few days he will likely be released. There is physical therapy in his future, and something new: a walker with wheels. The physicians are worried he might fall although he has no history of falling. I have not heard that his COPD has reached the stage where he needs supplemental oxygen, but if I were his physician I would order it. It was his incoherence and blue fingernails that cued us into the severity of the problem. It was this and that he could barely make it between his bed and his water closet.

So maybe his 88th birthday party will go on as scheduled on Saturday. We can only wait and see. I do hope his appetite has returned by then. There were signs that it was coming back to him when I left today. And if my stepmother is as perceptive as I expect her to be, the party will end with a birthday cake. I t better have plenty of chocolate in it.

 
The Thinker

It’s not easy being clean

I am becoming convinced that only sociopaths truly need to have everything in their house clean and orderly.

Last month I lamented that I am busy turning my home into a house. That process is well underway with no end in sight. It is, frankly, a bit overwhelming. It feels overwhelming despite the evidence that our house was in pretty good shape to sell even before I retired. Most of our rooms are recently painted. There are no major construction projects still needing to be done. Mechanically, things are in working order and seem to be working optimally. After twenty-one years of living in our home, it was finally the sort of house we wanted to live in. So of course we must put it on the market, move somewhere else and start the whole process again!

Since last month there have been all sorts of changes, mostly superficial. It’s mostly superficial because mostly what we have been doing is cleaning, sorting and disposing. The guy at Goodwill receiving is starting to recognize my face. Our trashcan typically overflows on collection day.

But there have been other changes of a more substantive nature. The bathroom in the basement has a new floor, and the sink was ripped out and a new pedestal sink was put in its place. The project included disposing of a dead mouse found in the old vanity and adding new baseboards, not to mention spending about a thousand dollars for a floor guy, plumber and various materials. The exterior of our house, which included significant dirt and mildew, is freshly power washed and shiny. It’s the first time I sprung for such a luxury, and I probably never would have done it had we not planned to sell the house. There is mulch around the trees and bushes for the first time in years. The garden is weeded and mulched as well. We’re creating curb appeal.

As for the inside, much work remains. The ugly carpet in the basement, dirty in spite of a recent professional cleaning and impossible to get out rust stains, will form the pad for the new carpet when it gets installed in during November. First our daughter has to vacate. Her college furniture takes up the family room in the basement, so new carpet must wait. However, the estimator warned us that the new carpet wouldn’t fit under the doors in our basement. Suddenly there was a new project: shaving the underside of ten doors in the basement. This was very daunting without the circular saw I didn’t have. Fortunately, my ex-boss came to the rescue and loaned me her circular saw. Over five hours, with the smoke detector frequently chirping because of all the sawdust in the air, I cleanly trimmed three quarters of an inch off the bottoms of all of them.

All the above though is easy compared with the cleaning kitchen project. We’ve been plugging away at it off and on and every time we thought it was done there turns out to be more to do. I also realized to my embarrassment that in the fifteen years since it was remodeled, we had never really cleaned it, although the floor has been replaced twice.

Oh, the floors, cabinets and countertops have been swept, washed and sanitized many times. But the cabinets were stuffed with crap that had been shoved in them over the years. The refrigerator was rarely cleaned and the coils on the back even more rarely dusted. Our goal was to have a truly clean and decluttered kitchen. After about four weeks of work, it’s nearing that stage. Some touch up items like painting the windowsills will have to wait.

Cleaning the kitchen was at times a truly disgusting experience. Waste goes into a hidden kitchen trashcan you pull out, but of course stuff spills out. Fluids leach down the inside of the cabinet and all sort of crumbs and crap make their way to the back of the cabinet which are hard to see even with the kitchen lights on. There are shelves of stained plastic ware, most that don’t match anything. In them we found sipper cups our daughter used more than twenty years ago and a plate celebrating the bicentennial in 1976.

Cleaning out the pantry was another archeological expedition. It’s amazing how much shelf space you have if you take the time to read the box to see if the product expired. There were items purchased in 2000 still sitting in the pantry! And when was the last time we had cleaned the pantry shelves themselves? That would be never, not once in twenty-one years. Everything came out, was inspected and much of it was discarded. Heavy detergents attempted to clean the shelves and walls. There were ten-year-old ant traps in the corners and small blocks of drywall where someone had snaked telephone wire.

We recently acquired a probably illegal recording of the first episode of the new season of Downton Abbey. Much of life in the abbey centers on the kitchen where the cooking and cleaning never stop. That’s pretty much the way it has to be if you want a truly clean kitchen. Someone could be in our kitchen twenty-four hours a day endlessly sweeping, cleaning, disinfecting and sorting and it would never actually be clean and orderly. At best you create the illusion.

The kitchen is the most egregious example, but each room is similar to it, just smaller in magnitude of effort. It all must be made to look, well, unlived in, so we can present it to some prospects and convince them to take out a thirty-year mortgage to acquire it. That’s so we can pocket the equity in the house and use much of it to buy another one. I can say from experience that whoever cares for this house after we leave will definitely find it both a second job and like having a second child. Keeping it clean, or even just picked up, will be a never-ending task. Good luck with that.

All these years we squirreled away stuff to give our house the appearance of looking reasonably orderly, but it was all just a façade. The engineer in me though likes the idea of complete cleanliness and orderliness. I like a place for everything and everything in its place. In retirement, I thought, I’d finally have the time!

It was my delusion. I hope our house sells quickly and I hope our new home quickly acquires that lived in, somewhat cluttered look quickly. While I dislike the idea it’s apparently what I am capable of. Only the very rich with a large full time staff like those on Downton Abbey can actually live this reality. For the rest of us, it’s best to face it: there is not the time in the day, even in retirement, to maintain this level of orderliness.

 
The Thinker

Gasping for breath

Age is catching up with my father. At nearly age 88, his mind is willing but his body is not always capable of keeping up. This was obvious to me when we visited him a few weeks ago. We shuffled off to one of the local dining establishments in his oversize retirement community, and shuffle we did, well to the rear of other pedestrians. My father can no longer run. He can still walk, but he is limited to shuffling. To not find myself bounding ahead of him, I slowed my walk to an unnaturally slow gate. I am hardly moving yet I heard him panting and gasping for breath next to me. He’s not on oxygen but it’s easy to imagine a time not too distant when there are oxygen tubes going up his nostrils and he is carrying an oxygen supply with him wherever he goes.

Dad has COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s a fancy way of saying his lungs are slowly dying and so, by extension is he. For men who make it to his advanced age (and most of his peers have long been planted six feet under) COPD is rife. It’s not hard to find people wheeling oxygen canisters down the hallways at Riderwood. COPD is the third largest cause of death in the United States. It’s hard to say exactly how my father developed it, but there were decades when he spent much of his day coughing, hacking and incessantly clearing his throat. Fortunately, he never smoked, but COPD has a lot in common with smokers’ diseases like emphysema. It destroys or plugs with mucus the linings of the lung where blood and air meet, where oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide gets vented. This means you breathe less deeply, and even if you can breathe more deeply, less oxygen will get into the bloodstream.

Dad walks not just slowly, but is also stooped. He does not require a cane or walker, but those may come in time. He can bound up steps first thing in the morning but he tires easily. He and my stepmother spent a night with us recently. Both had issues going down thirteen steps to our guest room. In my stepmother’s case, it was due to her knee replacement, which lets the knee bear weight but without the agility she is used to. And the joint does hurt. Steps need to have firm handrails and not be too high. In my father’s case, it’s due to shortness of breath. Movement is done slowly when it is done at all.

My father has always been blessed with an unquestioning faith and an ability to accept fate without sinking into depression. He accepts that he has COPD, but until I looked up the details I was unaware that it was progressive and (assuming something else does not kill you first) will literally be the death of him. He takes each day as it comes, but you can tell he is struggling. Some part of his happiness is for show. He has always imparted life lessons and as he nears his nineties he is still providing some. The latest one seems to be to not look too far ahead and to take each day for the blessing that it is.

He doesn’t require a wheelchair at airports but seems to accept that it is a good thing to ask for one. The walks to gates and between concourses are long. And travel he must, at least he feels he has to. His only sibling, a younger sister, is losing her memory. She is currently in assisted living with her husband in northern California. He and my stepmother spent the night with us because they still drive, but not at night, and we live close to the airport. They will navigate the Capital Beltway, but only during non rush hours. And it’s my stepmother who usually does the driving, being six years his junior. They can do things the rest of us can do, but just barely. Every week makes their expansive life look like it will shrink a bit. It is likely not too long before they will give up cars altogether and except for rare and chaperoned trips out, retired life will be lived wholly within Riderwood. At some point, my father is likely to die there, or at a nearby hospital.

So an airline trip to San Francisco, then a commuter flight to the city where his sister is at, is a major logistical challenge. My stepmother is there for an important reason: to keep my father safe. She still has her wits about her and unlike my father is not likely to nod off repeatedly during games of Scrabble. With a sound sleep my father can navigate life. Add the stress of flying across the country, shuttling between airplanes and carrying suitcases and it becomes problematic. Also problematic: the chance of contracting something while traveling. A few years ago while visiting his sister he ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. He arrived home a week later than planned. Even then he was fortunate to have my stepmother, then just his girlfriend, to be there and to make sure he received appropriate care.

I keep my fingers crossed for him. Although not a praying man, I feel the need to pray for him. My father has always been such a gentle soul, with series of caretakers like my mother around to support him when life might cause his to slip on the sidewalk cracks. There are far worse ways to die than from COPD, so perhaps it is something of a blessing. He’s unlikely to lose his mind to dementia like his sister. He is unlikely to find his body a neurological mess like my late mother. He probably won’t have to suffer from chronic pain, like my wife spends much of her life. He deserves to keep his mind intact until the end, and it still is intact, although it seems to be running at a slower clock speed.

Meanwhile, with every labored breath I can’t help but reflect on how much time he has left with us and how much I will miss my gentle role model of a man and a father when he is irretrievably gone from us.

 
The Thinker

Readying for another adventure

So how is the retirement thing going, Mark? It’s been about a month since I retired. Is retirement boring? Stressful? Did it feel like jumping out of an aircraft without a parachute? Does it feel surreal? Am I ready to divorce my wife because we are sharing the days, nights and the same house pretty much all the time? I may have all of these feelings in time, but at least so far it’s going great and as for my wife, she’s proving surprisingly companionable.

Starting retirement off with a vacation was probably a smart move. It put a bookend on one part of my life and another bookend on another part of it. Coming home proved that while we may be retired, it’s not like our lives still don’t have their struggles. There was a refrigerator that died on us while we vacationed, which meant more days eating out of a cooler and cleaning out a super stinky refrigerator. Trust me, you’d prefer to change baby’s diapers for a year. And our house was broken into as well during our absence. It helps to be on beta-blockers. You can take the news like this without skipping a heartbeat or feeling the hair raise on the back of your head. Yet all this seems minor compared to the pleasure of waking up every day pretty much when I want to and knowing I won’t have a high pressure job to deal with everyday. That’s now SEP: someone else’s problem.

Our schedule is hardly blank. There are doctors’ appointments, meetings with realtors, events related to the church that I attend and the big one: fixing up the house. Yet despite these things, the main thing I notice is the absence of much in the way of stress. The first Friday back from vacation I had to go to the grocery store to buy some essential foodstuffs for the cooler. I was a bit bleary eyed at 8 AM because the cops were in our house until about midnight asking questions about the break in and gathering evidence. Sitting in my car at the entrance to our main thoroughfare I observed a long parade of cars coming down the street. It’s a Friday morning and likely all but a handful were on their way to work. However, I was on a short trip to the Food Lion. It seemed surreal that I could slip out to the store instead of dashing off to work. I’d read my email that morning, but it would be my personal email, not the fifty or so emails that a few weeks earlier would have waited me at work, all of which would have to be read carefully and some of which would require careful diplomatic responses.

Someone else’s problem.

No leave requests to approve. No employees to give me grief. No major milestones a year or two out to try to shoot at with the usual inadequate resources. No problematic management to deal with. Yet there were a few downsides. No more soup and salad from the cafeteria at lunch, and no view of the Shenandoah Mountains from my fifth floor office. Instead, I have a nice view of my backyard and the mostly empty looking houses of my cluster, empty because the occupants are out earning a living and I am on a pension.

For the first time in many months, I am home when the lawn crew comes by. I hear the mail carrier arrive. In the morning as I ingest breakfast I hear the cicadas, and even with the windows shut the sound is nearly deafening.

There are plenty of things to do, but we take them mostly on our own schedule. It includes teaching one class on Tuesday nights, a “job” I don’t need but I am happy to do and look forward to. Some of them I outlined a few posts back. I used to time appointments for my alternate Friday off, or late and early in the day. Now I time them for the middle of the day, when there is no rush hour to deal with. During rush hour it can take half an hour just to drive five miles. Without the rush hour, it’s about five minutes.

Instead of seeing the inside of the U.S. Geological Survey most weekdays, I’m about as likely to see the inside of the Lowes instead. Because when you are fixing up a house to sell it, you often need some of this and some of that, and it’s generally readily available at Lowes or Home Depot, and the Lowes is closer. The salespeople and cashiers are starting to look familiar, and despite its super size I am starting to find stuff on the first try, instead of wandering haphazardly up and down the aisles.

I like to think I’m a great software engineer, or at least a great manager of software engineers. Over ten years with the energy of the terrific team I led, we increased traffic on the web site I managed 615%, and put up a new site that got 190M page requests last year. Absent a large seismic event, these sites got more traffic than the USGS Earthquake site and at least anecdotally more traffic than any U.S. Department of Interior web site. Now, I am trying to master my new role of home handyman. Putting up a new screen door showed me that I’m not very good at it. When I discovered that replacing the floor to a bathroom would require removing our toilet, I decided to leave that to a professional. Still, most of these tasks are just challenging enough to give me some modest feeling of satisfaction. They can be done in a day or a couple of days, instead of the years it takes to put up a new highly trafficked real-time web site.

Instead of creating project plans with Microsoft Project, my new planning tool is a Google Docs document, a bunch of indented bullets all pointing to the goal of selling a house and moving into a new one. I strike through tasks as I finish them, and constantly add tasks I hadn’t thought of. With luck in six to nine months they will all be checked off, our life will be fundamentally rearranged and we’ll be relocated somewhere near Easthampton, Massachusetts.

One task on the list is to relocate our 24-year-old daughter first, currently camped in the bedroom she has inhabited for most of the last 21 years. Her apartment is leased and she will move in October. Tonight, she and my wife are sorting through stuff in her bedroom, for she has accumulated her own hordes of stuff over the years. She too has to reassemble her life. She has to start real life, and that involves charting her own life no longer tethered to the financial floor that we have provided.

Life is about change. Retirement should feel scary. It triggers image of old guys in shorts and white socks halfway to their knees holding on to walkers with tennis balls on the front. But it’s not about that at all. I am 57 and these days I am still considered middle age. This first stage of my retirement is about moving on and changing the scenery of my life. It’s about growing again, somewhere new, somewhere nice. It’s about a new journey.

Like Bilbo Baggins, I feel like I am ready for another adventure.

 
The Thinker

Stranger in my own home

What is the greatest appeal of owning your own home? It took me twenty-one years to figure it out. It was not appealing principally because I hated having noisy neighbors above and/or below or next me, although some of them annoyed me a lot. It was not that I did not like what felt like arbitrary and capricious rent increases. It turns out the real reason I wanted to own my own home was having someplace to park my stuff more or less permanently.

The reason it took so long to figure it out is because it’s been that long since some of the stuff I am now sorting through has even been looked at. Of course, in the intervening twenty-one years that we have been in our house, we’ve also added considerably to our troves.  We did it because we assumed we would never move.

The day of reckoning has arrived. It’s not that we are particularly pack rats but we had plenty of space so why not use it? Things got bought or picked up then shuffled to other spaces, to maybe be periodically shuffled somewhere else. The shuffling process is still underway. However, now the intent is to shuffle of a lot of it permanently out of the house. That’s because my wife and I are both retired now and we intend to move, which means we have to sell the house. And that means we really must declutter the place. Oh, and fix it up and stuff.

Those of you that own a home know that fixing up a house is a never-ending experience. The fixing up part, not to mention the actual living in the house part, has consumed much of our twenty-one years in this house. With the exception of the doors, the entire exterior of the house has been replaced. Inside, the sump pump is the only appliance here when we bought the house and presumably is still in working order. The deck has been replaced and screened in. The kitchen has been enlarged and its floor propped up with a support beam because it was sagging. Carpets have been torn out and hardwood floors put in, but in other places carpets have been replaced, sometimes more than once. Walls have been moved, a bathtub replaced and even the basement windows are new and energy efficient. The kitchen floor has been replaced twice, the cabinets once, and the countertops twice, most recently with granite. There was no time or energy left to do much in the way of decluttering.

But now it simply must be done. Wherever we end up, it will be smaller than where we are now. And we won’t need a lot of the stuff we have now. We won’t need to cut the grass so we have got to dispose of a lawn mower, as well as an edger, grass seed, fertilizer and various insecticides and herbicides. We probably won’t need a tall ladder, but we may keep that in case we have cathedral ceilings. Some condominium association will handle the outside. We won’t need our huge workbench, and probably one of our bedroom sets can go as well. There are books out the wazoo, most of which we’ll never read again, magazines in some cases twenty years old, thousands of pictures stuffed into envelopes that were never filed or indexed, small appliances we never use, and various pet stuff. We’ll keep the cat condo, but I can’t see us having a hamster in our lives again, although we still have the cage and the shavings for the inside.

There is a freezer full of stuff in the basement, some of it that has been in there more than five years, that needs to be half as full as it is and maybe actually defrosted. The only good thing about our refrigerator dying over vacation is that it forced us to throw out a lot of food that we should have thrown out anyhow. It also made us clean the refrigerator top to bottom, the first time we did it in the five years we have had the appliance, and it would have been disgusting to clean even if it hadn’t died.

It all must be looked at and then we have to decide what to do with it. At least it falls into discrete categories: keep it, trash it, donate it or sell it. The natural tendency is to trash it. This is easy to do with small stuff. It’s the larger stuff that gets hard to dispose, like a mattress we slept on for fifteen years. Only once a year does our cluster have a large trash pickup, and ironically you can get in trouble for putting too much stuff on the curb. Which suggests at some point we’ll have to stage all this large sized stuff to trash in the garage, and hire some firm to haul it to the dump.

It helps to be ruthless when you declutter, especially with your personal stuff. I saved printouts and floppy disks of software I wrote in the 1980s. It meant a lot to me at the time, but yesterday I sent the printouts to recycling and put the five and a quarter inch diskettes with my impressive 1980s dBase III Plus and Dataflex code in the trash. Our file cabinets were busting at the seams. No wonder, there was ten years of Explanations of Benefits crammed in there, not to mention owners manuals for appliances in some cases two generations gone. Anything that looked the least bit sensitive went into a pile to be shredded, the rest went into general paper recycling boxes. Recyclables are collected weekly at the curb, but this was different. Every day I fill up a box or two of paper, cardboard or paperbacks that no one will want to read. Later that day or the next I drive three miles to the county recycling center and unceremoniously throw them in the recycling dumpsters.

Freecycle is a good place to get rid of stuff that is usable, but even those who are glad to take very used stuff for free won’t necessarily take boxes full of empty binders. Excess clothes including shoes are easily donated at Goodwill boxes at nearby shopping centers, but the better stuff should go to a consignment shop. Sometimes we’ll give away for free something that we might get some cash for if we had the energy to do a proper garage sale or a car big enough to haul something larger, like a used office chair. Mainly we are happy to give these to a good home if someone will just haul it away. Whether you give something away or sell it, it takes time to describe it, photograph it, respond to requests, and to actually hand it over.

My 2008 iMac went quickly for $75 on Craigslist. I underpriced it, so the next item I post there will be set more at a market price. The workbench needs to go but really can’t leave the house until our daughter does. That’s because it took two big guys to haul it in (it’s in one piece), and it only fit through the back door just barely. Her stuff from her college apartment is blocking the path to the backdoor, which is perhaps the reason why my wife has been needling our daughter to move out already. It’s time to empty the nest permanently, and just in time. Her room is very lived in, will need repainting and the carpet may need to be replaced as well.

We’ve kept up with painting reasonably well over the years, but there is more painting to do, and more things that must be caulked or patched. There is an original basement carpet coated in a lot of cat vomit that even the best carpet cleaners could not remove, so it has to be replaced. We have to decide how much to renovate the downstairs bathroom, if at all.

Which means we need to start interviewing realtors. We interviewed the first one today. Our house will need to be staged, she told us, which means at some point it will cease to become our home while we are still living in it. They’ll bring in some furniture and potted plants and ask us to replace some carpets and put in certain do-dads so that it shows right when the public is finally allowed in. We’re not so much selling a house as creating something that would not be too embarrassing to show on HGTV. In short, our house will be transformed into a surreal living space until it is inevitably sold, probably to some starry eyed couple with a couple of kids. Then all that staged furniture will be hauled out, we’ll move out, and the new owners will take possession. Doubtless it will soon devolve back into rooms full of clutter again.

We won’t see it then, of course, but I’ll be happy to hear about it when it happens. Because you don’t really have a home until the clutter arrives and it settles into storage bins and closets. For when the clutter goes, so goes the soul of your home. Any day now as we transform our home into a surreal space it will cease to be my home too, and I will be a stranger in my own home.

 

Switch to our mobile site