As I sit here on a Saturday morning looking out the window at the fog that has rolled in blanketing the hills, and at the birds chasing each other in and around the dripping trees, I am content, and peaceful, and looking forward to a quiet day at home alone. I have work to do of course: writing, and cleaning, and laundry–the usual stuff, but I also have music to work on for church tomorrow, including practicing my recorder for the new recorder ensemble, and listening to Hillary’s Hard Choices on CD while I launch a new knitting project. I am a lucky woman. I struggle with feelings of unworthiness for such a rich life. Who am I to deserve so much, and why am I not a better, kinder person? Gotta keep working on that part!
I am looking back over the past 10 months since I moved here to Pacific Grove for the purpose of overseeing construction of our retirement home. You could call me an itinerant worker, moving for the work. But my original plan was that this would be transitioning step into retirement. I had planned to work on this blog chronicling the construction of the house and then I would continue to serve as Program Director of the International Women’s Convocation, my part-time volunteer job. Still I was leaving some of my Houston jobs as President of the Homeowners’ Association and my various volunteer jobs at church. I was supposed to be lightening my workload. Though, as you can see, I was busy filling my time with my hobbies, and agreeing to new volunteer jobs at church.
I did not know what to expect when I moved here last July. At some point soon after I arrived, I realized I had never lived alone before, even though this is now how the majority of adults live in the USA, and in this we lag behind other countries. [i] It would be the first time I had lived apart from my husband in 44 years. Harry and I had made plans to visit often and phone daily, but I don’t think either of us were completely sure how this would work for either of us.
I know I had visions of myself sashaying on shopping sprees down Carmel’s Ocean Blvd, but that happened just once. Instead, I have done so much walking with Charlie I’m now on my third set of walking shoes for which I have to have special insoles.
The surprise for me has been how much I have enjoyed being alone. It was originally what I had worried about the most because I thought I would be frightened and lonely. But I have not been either. Instead I have been peaceful and discovered things about myself that I had not known, or gotten in touch with things about myself that I had forgotten. For example, I have been able to do so much reading, something I loved to do as a child, but from which I can be easily distracted as an adult. In Houston, I used to joke when folks asked me how I was doing that I didn’t know because I hadn’t any time to check. But now I do have time and check in with myself and feel I know myself better for it and perhaps am more sure footed—though it might be the insoles. While daily meditation has not worked very well for me, I do give credit for being more focused, aware, and mindful to my foray into Buddhism these past three months which has included sitting weekly in a Sangha, or community. Through this I have found a new sense of compassion for others, and also a joy in living that I have missed over the past years and feared I had lost.
But in truth I have not lived like Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond. First off, I haven’t had my mother to cook for me as he did. But, like Thoreau, I have made new friends (through church though and not at the local pub)[ii]. But I have wheedled and cajoled my two walking buddies into going over to my favorite pub for a glass of wine and a quick dinner a few Friday’s ago after a walk on the beach. I could feel my anticipation growing as the day approached. And when we were together we had the best time. In fact I could hardly stop cracking jokes and we all laughed and stumbled home in the dark late. So, I have found new friends! What a joy! And then I was having so much fun laughing in choir practice a week or so ago that another gal I really am fond of said she would like to go out drinking with me too and go to the hot piano bar there at Mission Ranch! And this is all since I gave up my nightly glass of wine…there’s a message in there somewhere.
I think the experience for Harry has been quite the opposite. He has been lonely although in very different circumstances since he is not beginning life in a new place, but preparing to take his leave of friends in Houston. Unlike me he never seems to stand still. He is always going places, out to shows and concerts by himself. In truth he did give me both of our pets who keep me on a short leash.
Back to the story of the house, we have been going through some rather tense times since putting our house in Houston on the market, which we did in early April. There were so many decisions that were linked to that, one of which was Harry’s retirement. We decided it would make sense for various reasons for him to retire and move out here at the end of June, this month. But then, to our chagrin, the house didn’t sell. We have come to expect that a house will sell at internet speed, like a couch on Craig’s List. So, when a month passed and still it hadn’t sold even after we had dropped the price, we started to worry. Was this the one thing we had just assumed would happen so easily, that would now foil all of our well laid plans? I wanted to run my “worst case scenarios,” as I am prone to do when things are not working out as planned. Harry, ever steady, kept assuring me it would sell if we just kept lowering the price, as we were talking about doing a second time. But, I insisted that he get with Luke, aka Skywalker, our financial manager, who did find more of our money that he apparently keeps in places we don’t know about for just such times as this. That provided us a little breathing room in the knowledge that we could finish the house without having to sell stock which at this point in the year would mean paying half the proceeds in taxes.
When Harry came for a visit over Memorial Day weekend we had a great time together here in Pacific Grove. Erica came down too to pick up her friends who were in a sailing race from San Francisco to Monterey Bay.
I chose this as an opportunity to finally put together a scrapbook of her baby and childhood photos. She had asked me for this since I had made one for our eldest daughter, Samantha, when she moved away from home, but I had not yet gotten around to doing it for Erica. It was close to her birthday so I thought this would be a perfect excuse, not that I needed one. It was a wonderful experience putting it together. It is of her first 18 years (since, after that, digital photos took over and we quit developing rolls of film). To see her through the photos grow and change from a newborn to being a high school graduate not only buoyed my spirits, it awakened many, sometimes conflicting memories of good times and periods of stress in the life of our family. Overall it gave me a view of this sweep of time that showed Harry’s and my constancy and of that I was proud because that’s a large part of what parenting takes—just being there. But it also showed to me all the years when I had been so busy I could hardly look up to notice my very handsome husband captured in these photos. I watched myself in the photos age, and grey, and tire. Still we had shared many wonderful times together as a family.
On Saturday, Erica scooted off home with her scrapbook, and Harry and I turned to shopping for remaining pieces of furniture. To start with we would need a new bed. Our 15 year-old mattress at home had served us well, but it was time for us to send it on its way. The world of beds has changed for sure. Memory foam has arrived and promises you a stable platform so you will never be disturbed when your partner rolls over in the middle of the night. You can also buy the kind that keeps you cool so you won’t have to tear off the covers in the wee hours after you have heated the bed from freezing to sweltering, and it promises that you can lie on your side without putting your arm to sleep. But wait, there’s more. What about a bed that raises your knees, tilts you up to read, sits you up for TV, all the while massaging your lumbar? Oh you say, that’s too much in a bed. Suppose my partner wants to rumble when I want to meander off? Not to worry, get two twin beds that fit together with separate remotes and you can tango while he/she tumbles off. Never mind that we went out for the $1,000 Serta Perfect Sleeper and moved to the icomfort Serta Series for $5,000. We will definitely be spending a lot of time in these beds, no need to go to the hospital, just stay right at home where you have the better bed.
And then we found the perfect recliner to fit my husband’s large frame. When we first dated he used to tell me he was part Viking. Only later did I realize that’s not part of his DNA, it’s part of his Avatar. But, perhaps there is more to it because the chair we finally found is Norwegian, Ekornes, which comes in small, medium, and large and even has another plastic ring you can fit under the chair to make it a little higher off the ground. It fit him to a tee and I love the look of it, and so does the designer, who exercised her veto power over several other recliner models.
With the cladding of the garage door in Ipe details worked out, our house construction chores were finished for the moment and we met with new friends from church to show them the house and they congratulated us earnestly. It is looking pretty darn fine I must say.
But the best news came when Harry arrived back in Houston that Monday to find an offer on the house waiting for him. It was low, but when we countered, they came up and now we have a contract set, and we have since set a date for the movers to come. I am scheduled to arrive a few days before that to attend Harry’s retirement party in The Woodlands, and our daughters have both offered to come help us move and hold a garage sale.
So I won’t be by myself much longer, but I hope to keep with me the things I have learned about peacefulness and compassion and also finding more time for self-care on my road to retirement.
[i] Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg (Penguin Press, 2012), p. 5.
[ii] Ibid., pp. 7-9.