The Reality of Retirement

The Reality of Retirement
Photos from the last two evenings

I'm sitting on the deck with the dogs, on day 105 of my retirement, and I've decided to write a blog post. Not sure where this is headed, but blogging was one of the things I was looking forward to doing more of after retirement, and tonight feels like a good time for it.

It feels like the last day of summer. The last two days we've hit 72 degrees here in Butte, which is crazy for late October, and the forecast highs for the next three days are 66, 60, and 49, with highs in the 30s and snow in the forecast a week from now.

I've named this post The Reality of Retirement, and it occurs to me that could be taken as a negative. "Well, I thought retirement was going to be about the thrill of amazing trips to exotic locations, but today I just raked leaves and vacuumed the shop and washed the truck and walked the dogs, and the reality is settling in that retirement is going to be about the tyranny of maintenance."

No, that's not how I feel about the reality of retirement at all. I'll ramble a bit below as I work through the bottle of Derek Rohlffs Pinot Noir that I just opened, but here's the short version: retirement is wonderful, and there are still only 24 hours in the day.

I'm working through the Pinot Noir alone because Megan is out of town, visiting the Seattle area for a few days. Right now, she's on a 10-mile walk from Redmond to Bothell after working on-site at Microsoft today. Megan loves long walks. The longest walk I've ever taken was with Megan and Jamie and Alice along the same route she's on this evening, those 10 miles followed by 18 meandering miles from Bothell to the University District, including a circuitously inefficient unintentional tour of the Meadowbrook and Wedgewood neighborhoods after the sun went down, because I thought I knew a shortcut but I was wrong.

Photo from our longest day, ending at a dive motel in the University District.

The Best-Laid Plans

Retirement is different from what I expected, because I had unrealistic expectations. I thought I was going to have time to play more music, and do more writing, and go on more hikes, and read more books, and learn all sorts of new things. Any time I thought of something I enjoy, I would think "hey, I'm going to have 40 hours a week free to spend on that now!" I over-sold those 40 hours to myself countless times, but there are still only 24 hours in the day.

Here's how I'd score myself on living up to my lofty ideas and goals for retirement:

  • Woodworking: A+. I've spent most of my free time the last two months on building a workbench, and I can't begin to put into words how much I'm enjoying it. But I'll probably try later. [pours another Pinot Noir]
  • Hiking: B. I've taken some amazing hikes with the dogs, although I didn't get to a few spots I had intended to experience this year, such as Table Mountain and Mount Fleecer (the highest peaks visible from our house).
  • Reading: C. I had a list of 12 books I was looking forward to reading when I retired. I read and enjoyed the first one on my list, Norman Ohler's Blitzed, and then I read the second one, Christopher Schwarz's Workbenches. And that one sort of changed my life. I've now read several other Chris Schwarz woodworking books, and I'm not sure whether I'll ever get back to my retirement reading list. Well, except for David Beazley's Python Distilled, which I'm sure I'll read and love, for so many reasons that won't fit into the narrative arc (LOL) of this particular blog post. If you're unfamiliar with Dabeaz, my favorite software development speaker and writer, here's an example of his approach.
  • Music: F. I was going to get back to learning classical guitar. I was going to start playing my keyboard again. After years of barely singing, I was going to get back to singing regularly. None of that happened: it's been all woodworking and hiking. But in November, when hiking season will be over, I'm looking forward to diving into music like I have so many years in the past. I have a singing lesson schedule with my old friend/mentor/confidant Scarlett next month, and I'm planning to dive back into music like I haven't since I was seeing her for voice lessons every week, 20 years ago. Can't wait!
  • Dance lessons: F. I joked about taking dance lessons when I blogged about retiring, but it wasn't really a joke. I have some specific dance aspirations, which I suppose is like my dog Nancy having some money-making aspirations, but I do, and I've done nothing about it. Yet.
Woodworking photos from the first 100 days of retirement. I am currently building a workbench (center) that will weigh over 300 pounds, and I can't wait to pound on it with hammers and chisels and saws. I may even build something useful on it, but that's a secondary goal.
Hiking photos from the first 100 days of retirement.

Anyway, the point of all the above is that I had some plans for retirement, and I did a slightly different thing so far instead, and it's all good.

Isaac's Road Trip

So what's next? Well, in the short term, it's all about a road trip I've planned with Isaac.

I had originally planned this trip as "Nancy and Isaac's first big road trip to do something other than move to Montana," but I've decided to leave Nancy home with Alice and Megan. Alice is old (13 – 90-something in human years for a Samoyed) and doesn't like to take long drives any more, but she's still very social and physically fit for her age, and enjoys kicking Nancy's ass after every meal. So Alice will keep that constant in her life while Isaac and I enjoy a guys' road trip full of dinners at Buffalo Wild Wings and long hikes in bad weather and those sorts of things.

We're headed to Chicago. I lived there from 1982 to 2000, and am looking forward to seeing several friends from those days. We also have some plans on the return trip, exploring wilderness areas in South Dakota and Wyoming.

We leave in 72 hours or so, and I have a long list of things to do to pack and get ready. Here in Montana, we tend to take drives on rugged mountain roads where there's no cell service and a tow truck couldn't get there even if you could call them, but for the next couple of weeks Isaac and I are sticking to the Interstate Highway System almost the entire time. So I've removed the MREs and shovel and hatchet and emergency shelter from the truck lockbox, and I'll be replacing them with things like Butte-distilled whiskey gifts for Midwestern friends.

In planning Isaac's road trip, I have thought often of all the amazing road trips that we took with Jamie, and then with Jamie and Alice. And I'm trying to apply a principle espoused by the aforementioned woodworking author, Christopher Schwarz: INVENT NOTHING.

Chris's point is that if you're doing woodworking and you feel a need to invent something to solve some problem, that's probably a sign that you haven't studied the history of your craft as thoroughly as you should. Smarter people than you, who lived long before you, encountered the same challenges and addressed them brilliantly, building things that have endured daily use for centuries, and if you could just set aside your ego and learn from them, you wouldn't feel the need to invent something clever and impressive.

To that end, I am planning Isaac's road trip in the exact same way we planned Jamie's road trips to 25 states, after learning what worked and what didn't. From the food, to what to bring, to how to pack it for optimum move-in/move-out experiences in dive motels, to how to balance long days (our first day will be 835 miles) and short days, Isaac is about to experience a Jamie-style road trip, with NOTHING INVENTED.

And with that, I think I'll click the green PUBLISH button and call it a night. Good night! [pours the last of the Pinot Noir]