During the week of the Winter Solstice this year, I invited to my house three different groups of friends to join me for three consecutive Solstice Teas. For some reason, no tea was served at any of these gatherings, but we did have fun imbibing various other beverages as we visited in front of the fire in the fireplace.
A few days after the Solstice teas, I decamped to the north Georgia home of my youngest sibling for the family’s December 25th gift-exchanging ritual, a long-standing tradition which I assume will continue at least until all the children in the extended family have reached puberty.
After lunch with my family on Christmas Day, I drove directly to the cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that I co-own with some friends. The cabin, rather than at home in Atlanta, is where, for most of the past fifteen years, I’ve chosen to welcome in the new year. Most years, I remain in Blue Ridge until at least New Year’s Day, but this year I decided to drive back to town earlier than usual, after learning that several friends who I’d expected to eventually join me at the cabin this year couldn’t make it, either because they’d been stricken with the flu, or they found themselves too worn out from their own recent holiday journeys to make another long drive so soon.
As usual, my week-long stay at the cabin afforded a pleasant vacation from chores at home (especially my Solstice decor clean-up chores). Two friends did make the drive up to the cabin to join me, both of whom have been there many times before and who I hope will continue to enjoy with me and with others the relaxing atmosphere there.
As I’ve returned to Atlanta earlier than usual, I’m able to post before midnight tonight a slightly revised version of the most recent edition of the Solstice newsletter that I mail out to friends and relatives every year. I’ve inserted links – the underlined words or phrases below – to various previous blogposts that supply further details – and photos – of the places or experiences mentioned. [The texts of previous editions of the annual newsletter are here.]
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As 2014 hurtles toward 2015, I am stunned by how quickly this year has passed. Before celebrating this past March my first anniversary as a retiree, I had assumed that time would seem to slow down, or stretch out, after retirement. Instead, time seems to be speeding by faster than when I was holding down a full-time job. What has expanded rather than contracted in retirement, however, is the persistently high level of enjoyment of my “free” time. That’s easily the most pleasant surprise of 2014.
This year’s major shifts in or departures from my usual post-retirement routines:
• My housemate since February 2012, Brad Pitts, moved out in July to spend his final few months in the USA at the house of another friend, before returning in October to live in England with his husband Andrew. I was a bit apprehensive about living alone again after having a housemate for a year-and-a-half, thinking that might prove difficult, but that radical change in my domestic arrangements turned out not to be such a major psychological adjustment after all.
• Last spring, my long-time dream of replacing the shed in my back yard became a reality. My brother Michael, who lives in Oregon, spent the entire month of April with me, tearing down the dilapidated structure back there and constructing a sturdy, beautiful, and useful building. It’s large enough to accommodate all my garden paraphernalia, tools, etc., with room left over for a little sitting area, where, in warmer weather, I can start my mornings with a clear view of the patio fountain and the tiny bird sanctuary just beyond it.
• With space set aside in the new garden shed for over-wintering my patio plants, I was able to reclaim the sun porch inside my house as yet another pleasant place to hang out in, and I’ve installed there a glass-topped table devoted to enjoying my modest calligraphy hobby. And I added to my study – where I spend more time than in any other room in the house – a spacious antique drafting table to better accommodate other paper-based activities.
• Several additional domicile-improvement projects accomplished this past year may seem trivial, but each of them adds majorly to the quality of my domestic bliss:
- I got my windows cleaned for the first time in 20 years.
- I had my roof gutters replaced.
- I had the chimney cleaned.
- I topped with a piece of custom-made glass an antique cast iron sewing machine stand that my friend Kris gave me. The chair in front of this new table is my current (and convenient and comfortable) vantage point for watching the birds at my bird-feeders outside my bedroom windows (the aforementioned “bird sanctuary”).
- During his month-long stay at my house last spring, my brother Michael attached various gizmos to my television set that allow me to listen to music from the Internet throughout the house and to watch movies and old television shows. (No more DVDs-by-mail for Calvin, or confining my music-listening to the CDs I happen to own.)
In the out-of-state travel department, I made two major trips this year:
- In late May, I spent a delightful week on St. George Island with a dozen wonderful guys who’ve been gathering there every year for over a decade.
- In late September, I joined six friends for a week-long cruise down a canal in southern France, followed by a week with these friends in a villa in Provence, followed by ten days on my own in Rome visiting my ex-wife Peg and her husband Gary in Rome.
Several activities I continued in 2014 that I’d embarked upon in previous years. Among the most enjoyable of these:
- Completing my fifth year of weekly tai chi classes (although 2014 was when I finally – finally! – began practicing the form daily).
- Completing my 15th year of volunteer work as librarian for the congregation of local Quakers.
- Completing a third year of meeting monthly with a particularly lively group of archivists, librarians, and activists exploring ways to encourage lesbians and gay men to donate their letters, photos, journals, etc. to local archives.
- Attending a year’s worth of meetings of the neighborhood garden club.
- Attending most of this year’s meetings of the local calligraphy guild, and expanding my modest repertoire of calligraphy skills by participating in two guild-sponsored workshops.
- Dancing from time to time with Atlanta’s gay square dancing group.
- Spending several days each month at the mountain cabin I’ve co-owned with some friends now for the past fifteen (!) years. 2014 was the first year I’ve spent – on two occasions – an entire week at the cabin.
- Spending more time with several of the sweet men I met at some point over the past 25 years through my involvement with an organization called Gay Spirit Visions.
- When weather permits, continuing to use my motor scooter to accomplish most of my errands and my routine to-ing and fro-ing in Atlanta.
An important personal accomplishment this past year was posting more often – almost twenty times, in fact – to this Internet blog that I started five years ago. (I also continued – less often in 2014 than I’d planned – posting to another blog I maintain, the Atlanta Booklover’s Blog, dedicated to extolling the joys of reading.)
Back in August, I blogged about some of the many blessings I’d become aware of since retiring. I won’t repeat that list here, but I will mention that I am grateful to be still healthy, financially comfortable, continuing to enjoy several long-standing friendships (as well as embarking this year on several newer friendships), and living in a house I love in an unusually beautiful and congenial neighborhood. I’ve spent a good deal of 2014 doing things that I choose to do and enjoy doing. Most days have seemed like parts of a never-ending vacation.
Perhaps because lately I’ve found myself more and more often in “gratitude mode,” at the moment I can think of only two major personal disappointments in 2014:
- I haven’t yet struck The Perfect Balance balance between the amount of time I spend socializing with others and the amount of time I spend in solitary activities (reading, gardening, calligraphy, nest-feathering, etc.).
- 2014 didn’t turn out to be the year when I crossed paths with my next Significant Other – presuming, as I usually do, that there will be another such person in my life.
Despite these disappointments, I am clearly a fortunate pilgrim on this earth, and I appreciate your taking the time for letting me tell you so. I hope you spent some of this past year noticing and enjoying whatever blessings have befallen you and your loved ones in 2014, and that 2015 proves a Good Year for all of us.
The Constant Reader: 2014
A few highlights of Calvin’s reading adventures over the past twelve months:
Books Containing the Most Mind-Blowing Ideas Per Page:
- Eccentric Spaces by Robert Harbison
- The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by W. Lewis Hyde
- Words and Values: Some Leading Words and Where They Lead Us by Peggy Rosenthal
Authors Enjoyed for Their Extraordinarily Engaging Prose Styles:
- Rebecca Solnit in The Faraway Nearby
- Anne Lamott in Stitches
- David Brendan Hopes in A Sense of the Morning
Award for Most Unexpectedly-Amusing-While-Simultaneously-Educational Book:
- When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City by Robert J. Hutchinson
Most All-Around Absorbing/Enjoyable Book Cal Read in 2014:
- Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner
In case a title or two might snag your interest and be incorporated into your own reading plans, mini-reviews for the 38 books I completed in 2014 – as well as the lists of books I’ve read for each of the past 30 years – are here.
Thoughts for Pondering at Year’s End
Advice for “how to be alive while alive” from Anne Herbert’s blog “Peace and Love and Noticing the Details”:
While on planet, look at stuff.
While on planet, smell.
While on planet, feel how different planet parts feel.
The Earth is tasty in many different ways. Let it know that it can speak to you, if it wants, in ways you haven’t heard before or heard of.