March 16, 2016: A Good Day

gratitude photo

Have you ever had one of those days when your energy level, your mental attitude, the weather, how what you’ve decided to do with your day and/or what happens to you that day is unusally satisfying, and even what crosses your mind throughout that day all combine to make your entire day seem unusually full and gratifying and almost charmed?

Although I’ve written before about how sometimes I remember to feel grateful for the relatively care-free life I’ve been living since I retired three years ago, the Especially Good Day I enjoyed recently was a particularly excellent example of  how agreeable some of my post-retirement days have been. I’m writing about that day so I can refer back to it on one of those Other Kinds of Days that also happen – to me and to everyone.

The day started out with a suspenseful hop onto the weight scales to see if I’d gained any weight in the two weeks since ending a month-long diet I’d gone on in February. Still holding at 196, so hurray!

[A footnote: I realized this morning that I’d miscalculated how many pounds I’d lost on that diet. Not 22 pounds, but only 14 – which makes more sense, really, as I did not strictly follow the diet, only approximately followed it. Anyway, I’ve corrected my diet-reporting blogpost to reflect the correct math – and the more modest results of ye diet experiment.]

I next checked my iPhone for the day’s weather prediction, and was pleased to find that (a) it would be warm enough to take my motor scooter to my calligraphy class, and (b) it would be sunny enough in the afternoon for me to undertake a bit more pre-spring gardening work.

Because that week was registration week at the nearby senior center where my weekly calligraphy class is conducted, the only people who showed up for class were me and my instructor. That circumstance resulted some interesting conversations about the role calligraphy plays in our respective lives as well as my instructor’s teaching me how to more accurately write the Italic letter p, which – because I’d been going at it incorrectly all these years – I’d long been unhappy with! I also, for the first time, wrote out a lengthy (vs. a short) quotation on some lovely parchment-like paper that I’d bought a few weeks ago from a local paper dealer my instructor had told me how to find. Once I was finished writing out the quotation, I could actually see that I have, in fact, improved my skill at (Italic) calligraphy in the two years that I’d been taking my class at the senior center. A gratifying realization!

Scootering from the class to the grocery store, I was able to re-stock some of the items that I’ve incorporated into my food repertoire since the diet – “Jazz” apples, rice milk, oatmeal, etc. – plus, this time, I remembered to ask for my senior discount (something I forget to do half the time I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays!).

After lunch at home (so far in March, I’ve been eating less often in restaurants), I changed into my shorts and short-sleeves and plunged into a back yard task I’ve been wanting to do for at least three years now: refurbishing the flagstone path that circles my tiny garden of potted herbs. This required a lot of kneeling, digging, hacking at weeds, etc. Repaving a short path may seem like a small thing, but for me getting that path to look the way I wanted it was Another Very Gratifying Thing.

Coming inside for a break, I made two phone calls that made me feel even better. The first call was to set up a trip-planning session with one of the six friends I’ll be traveling to Ireland with this coming fall. The other call was to the Atlanta Water Gardens, to arrange for one of their staff to come out and get my patio fountain working again. As anything even marginally related to eventually traveling abroad again or being able to better enjoy my tiny garden makes me smile, these two phone calls were calls I was happy to make.

The day was also special because I was looking forward to something I’d planned the previous week: another urban hike with a group of gay men whose organization I had joined a couple of years ago. That evening’s hike was from one end of the eastside leg of the Atlanta Beltline to the Carter Presidential Library on the other end, and attending a presentation there by the guy who invented the Beltline, Ryan Gravel.

A major component of how pleasant it was to hike along the Beltline with a group of 20 other gay men in the Wilderness Network of Georgia was the conversation I had that evening with a guy in WNG who I’d never met before. We gabbled the whole way there, something that doesn’t always happen when I always-hesitantly join a large group of people who I barely know.

The Atlanta Beltline is the most exciting thing that’s happened to the infrastructure of Atlanta in my lifetime, and I have always wanted to hear Ryan Gravel speak. Gravel has written a book whose title (Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities) I really like the sound of, and his talk was inspiring. (As is Gravel’s blog, which I only found out about today.) I had also never been inside the so-called “chapel” of the Carter Center, which is a very impressive space – and very large, although it barely accommodated the crowd of fellow Gravel admirers who attended his talk.

Gravel’s talk was actually a staged interview with local public radio station host Valerie Jackson, the wife of onr of Atlanta’s former mayors. My participating in an public event that I could walk to (and could scooter home from), that was sponsored by the librarian at the Carter Center (who was a patron of mine during the nine years I worked at the Ponce Branch Library), that was being hosted by someone from the local public radio station WABE, and that featured one of my local urban heroes made me happy to be there, and proud to be in a city that is supporting a project like the Beltline. It also occurred to me that the bookstore selling Gravel’s book at the Carter Center that evening was another Atlanta amenity I appreciate having neaby: A Capella Books – which I remembered I still have a gift card for, and which I intend to use to buy Gravel’s book!

After the short trip back to my much-beloved neighborhood from the Carter Center in suddenly-chilly-again temperatures, I pulled up to my perfectly-sized (tiny) house, and spent an hour or so in my congenial living room contentedly beginning a book that resonated perfectly with Gravel’s thoughtful and sensible approach to urban design. The book, City Life:Urban Expectations in a New World (1995) by Witold Rybczynski, was one I’d long wanted to read because one of my favorite nonfiction authors had written it. I finished reading this engaging and encouraging book yesterday, happy not only with the book, but with the fact that my local library system – my former employer for 30+ years – owns  it, and, had it not owned it, would have obtained it for me free of charge through the U.S. miracle called the Interlibrary Loan System.

Eventually I snuggled into bed, grateful once again that it’s fitted out with thermal sheets, a thermal bedspread, and an electric throw – all comfort-inducing things my sister Gayle has given me over the past few years because she knows how cold-natured I am. This realization led to my thinking some nice thoughts about all the members of my immediate family.

A good way to end an Especially Good Day.

Most Recent Retirement Reflections: The Third Year

Lifestyle choices.

Yikes, it snuck up on me, the three-year mark of my retirement from a 30-year career! That fact alone sort of answers one of my original retirement questions: How long will it take before retirement becomes for Cal “the new normal”?

Having recently re-read my previous annual retirement status report (and a retirement-related blogpost written six months beforehand), I am struck by how accurate three of my (projected) worries about Year Three turned out to be.

  • As predicted, I find myself still struggling with trying to balance the amount of time I spend alone with the amount of time I spend in the company of other people. This observation reminds me of a rather haunting entry in my Commonplace Book: “Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich (The Eternal Now). Year 3 of retirement included several less-than-brief instances of the “lonely” category of being alone. On the other hand, I feel fortunate that most of the time I’ve spent alone in Years 1, 2, and 3 has been in the “glorious solitude” mode. Naturally, I don’t want that to change; I also hope to eventually learn whatever I need to learn (or to be) for me to look forward rather unambivalently to the rather large chunks of time I am likely to be spending alone in the future.
  • My success with – and gratification around – continually finding additional ways to tweak my house and yard to better suit my druthers has, as predicted, noticeably waned, especially over the past few months. True, I do occasionally stumble upon ideas that are fun to adopt or to experiment with, but compared to previous post-retirement years the rate of such discoveries/experiments has slowed down. (Which of course makes total sense, and for the reason stated in the quotation of David Owen that I used in my previous retirement report: “The closer you get your house to what you think you want it to be, the less power it has to pull you forward through your life.”)
  • I have not, since March 2015, undertaken more solo travel – or decreased my hesitancy to undertake more – despite the fact that there are dozens of places on this planet I’d theoretically love to visit (or re-visit), and despite the even more remarkable fact that I could probably afford more travel than I do.

This unexpected pattern is not only ironic but verges on the inexplicable: there are few people I know who are lucky enough to be as healthy, as unencumbered by family obligations, and as travel-loving as I am. Why haven’t I planned several out-of-state trips for 2016?

If I don’t snap out of my travel-planning and travel-taking inertia fairly soon, I am going to be very disappointed in myself, as there’s no logical (or even financial) reason for my seeming to be so unwilling or unable to exploit my good fortune at being in a perfect position to travel more.

Balancing these retirement-related disappointments and puzzlements, however, is the fact that, most days, I still experience glorious moments of “retirement euphoria” – or at least “retirement gratitude.”  As I was feeling this time a year ago, I still feel, and feel often:

  • Lucky to not be working for wages every day (and still not hankering, in the least, for some part-time job somewhere).
  • Glad that my mom’s health – despite a third mild stroke – is sufficiently OK for her to continue living by herself.
  • Still excited by the approach of another spring, and specifically what I might be able to create or accomplish in the tiny garden in my back yard. (Hey, maybe Year 4 of my retirement will see some improvements in my front yard!)

Three definitely non-disappointing changes since my previous annual retirement status report:

  • I haven’t been as constantly troubled by the fact that I live alone instead of being part of a long-term committed intimate relationship. Yes, I still would prefer to be living with a Significant Other – I doubt that this sentiment of mine will ever change – but I have begun to notice the advantages of having my own space. A related worry – that I might become a hermit if I continue living alone indefinitely – has diminished, as has my fear that I am inevitably becoming more of a curmudgeon thereby. True, I do have some stubborn and less-than-totally-flexible qualities, but I have seen a few of those diminishing rather than increasing over the past few years. (Not all, but some.)
  • Another gratifying new thing since last March: a perceptible improvement in my modest skills as a calligrapher. I will always be an amateur at this delightful hobby, but weekly two-hour classes taught by a remarkably gifted and intuitive (and generously encouraging) instructor, and the additional inspiration resulting from attending a few workshops over the past year have made a detectible difference. Other than using it to address my annual Solstice cards, I’m still rather shy about sharing my calligraphy with other people but year three of retirement has brought me the confidence that one day I might venture into additional ways to use calligraphy for more than the sheer satisfaction of trying to write beautifully as a form of solitary meditation.
  • A further source of satisfaction that Year 3 of retirement has highlighted for me: the benefits of my weekly tai chi classes and my modest daily regimen of tai chi practice. True, tai chi is not a form of aerobic exercise (it’s more of a stretchy/balance/ meditative thing than a way to improve my cardiac health), but I still feel lucky to have undertaken learning tai chi all those decades ago, to have rediscovered it almost ten years ago, to have such wonderful instructors and whose studio is so conveniently located, and to have noticed how much more these days I enjoy my daily walk in the park to do the form.

I suppose the overriding reflection I have about Year 3 of retirement is how paradoxical it seems that I have reached this new plateau in my daily round. It seems only yesterday that I was working, and yet my working life now seems so distant from my daily routines. These days my memories of a full-time working life seem like they belong to some other lifetime (or somebody else’s career).

Mixed into this paradox is another one: I am still aware of – and grateful for – how luxurious it feels to be (mostly) enjoying what amounts to a never-ending vacation (albeit mostly the stay-at-home type of vacation!), but I am also often chagrined at how short the span of any human life is, and how quickly time (usually) flies for me.

I would surely benefit from flinging a bit more carpe diem energy at the tempus fugit predicament I find myself pondering sometimes, but the main joy I can report at the end of Year 3 of retirement is that I highly recommend it, and that I am so glad that I didn’t wait a minute longer to begin it. My career was interesting and fulfilling and productive, but retirement is better!

Cal’s First – and Last? – Diet Experiment

Diet Book Cover

Short Version

Spent the month of February 2016 on “The Fast Metabolism Diet.” Lost some weight. It wasn’t fun. But it was also sort of interesting.

Long Version

Going on a diet of any kind was a radical idea for me. Until a few years ago, I’d been lucky enough – and/or active enough and/or sufficiently indifferent to most fattening foods – to avoid becoming concerned about my weight (or my waistline). Ever since, a few years back, I abandoned a decade or so of semi-vegetarianism, I knew I’d become increasingly casual in how I “decided” what or how much to eat. And I had become completely comfortable with my now-ingrained habit of eating many of my meals in restaurants.

Last summer (fall?) I noticed that I’d been gradually putting on more weight since I retired from my thirty-year librarian career three years ago. I definitely weighed more than I preferred to (and more than is optimal for someone my age and height), and I realized I was now getting considerably less exercise than when I’d been working. Still, I had no plans for changing any of my grocery-buying, food-fixing, eating, or exercise habits.

Last fall my friend Randall mentioned a month-long diet that a colleague of his had used to lose 20 pounds in a single month. It was called “The Fast Metabolism Diet.” Randall was impressed with his colleague’s accomplishment, had bought the book that describes the diet, and he loaned the book to me.

Although the numerous strictures of this diet seemed rather intimidating, its underlying premise seemed plausible. As I understand it, the idea is to deliberately disrupt your internal digestion-related organs (specifically your liver, adrenal glands, and your pancreas) from the dysfunctional ways we have trained them to behave to process the crappy food and “food-like products” Americans habitually ingest.

After reading the book and taking a deep breath, I told Randall that I’d be willing to join him for our own month-long attempt to follow this diet. At that point the year-end holidays were just around the corner, so we decided to postpone our experiment to the month of February 2016 – well past the fattening food-intensive rituals of the year-end holidays.

Although I remained determined to follow through on the planned experiment, by the time February rolled around, I had become increasingly uneasy about being able to stay the course. For one thing, among the features of this diet was a long list of completely forbidden foodstuffs: no wheat, no corn, no dairy, no soy, no sugar or artificial sweeteners, no caffeine, no alcohol, no dried fruit or fruit juices, no “fat-free” diet foods. None, zero, nada for such a long list of American staples! And not just for a day or two, but for an entire month!

Among numerous requirements for the diet: you had to eat five times per day (vs. the two I usually ate); you had to eat an actual breakfast (vs. my usual tea and sugar-laded dry waffle) – and do that within 30 minutes of waking up (vs. my habit of logging onto my computer first thing every morning); you had to drink lots of water – half your weight, in ounces, every day (other beverages didn’t count toward that total); you had to eat differently on different days of the week; and almost all the suggested recipes involved ingredients foods I rarely ate – and a few I had never even heard of (“coconut aminos,” anyone?).

The main reason I was so worried about undertaking the diet was the fact that I know what a creature of habit I am. I also know my lifelong history of being relatively indifferent to the types of food I choose, how often I eat, etc. (well, with the exception of that semi-vegetarian episode).

The upside of the approaching onset of the diet was my being intrigued with what positive effects – physical and psychological – might result from radically departing from my rather haphazard, convenience-based eating habits. Plus I knew I’d have Randall’s support in commiserating with whatever difficulties I might encounter in staying on the diet, locating the to-me rather exotic ingredients for some of the suggested meal recipes, etc. I figured the very worst that could happen is that I might be miserable, food-wise, for a month, but that we’d both come out of February weighing less than we did going into it.

Reader, February was even more difficult as I’d imagined.

What I Noticed

  • Dieting is a great way to slow down time. What is objectively, even in a leap year, the shortest month, seemed to be interminable! I thought February would never end.
  • There is no perfect month to go on a diet. We’d selected February because it February falls well beyond the year-end holiday debaucheries. But I ended up visiting friends in Florida only a few days after starting the diet, and as that visit included the usual round of socializing (including non-stop grazing) as well as a birthday celebration (i.e., cake), I came off the diet for four days only a few days after having started it. Then there were the three times other than the Florida trip when social occasions involved meeting friends at restaurants whose menus were decidedly not based on The Fast Metabolism Diet.
  • Dieters spend lots of time and money in grocery stores. My grocery runs are usually fairly quick affairs, since I’ve memorized where everything is in my local grocery and since I generally buy the same stuff over and over. I really had to search out some of the stuff required by the diet. The good news is that my grocery store did carry everything I ended up using on the diet book’s shopping list. Mainly because I decided early on to minimize the variety of recipes I used. The bad news is that I spent far more money on groceries in February than I am used to spending. (On the other hand, I spent less in restaurants.)
  • Dieters spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. The number of minutes devoted to food prep, dishwashing, and putting away the cleaned and dried dishes was astounding! I certainly developed a lot of sympathy for the mothers and fathers of the world who are confronted with producing three meals for themselves and their kids every day, or, rather, the mothers and fathers who try to keep variety in what they come up with, week end and week out. (Note to self: thank thy mother for those many years of such attempts.)
  • Dieting is a way to quickly learn how much mindless snacking many of us fortunate (and heavily-advertised-to) Americans engage in. I grew up in one of those rare middle-class American families where snacking was not typical, and that carried over in my adulthood all the way into my pre-retirement era. But in the past three years (since retiring), I have gradually slipped into the habit of keeping around all sorts of chocolates, Fritos, cookies, etc. And I do not reserve them for guests who come to tea! (Luckily, I never got into the habit of swilling carbonated/sugar-saturated soft drinks, but Calvin definitely prefers not only sugar with his guestless daily tea, but cream as well.)
  • I suffered no noticeable sugar or caffeine or chocolate withdrawal symptoms. At first – and only at first – I did sorely miss my morning ritual cup of hot-tea-with-cream, but I think I missed the ritual – and having to get used to preparing an actual breakfast – more than I missed the beverage itself. I was more annoyed with having to invent something to replace the candy dish full of M&Ms to snack on than I missed the chocolate itself.
  • Dieters spend time feeling a bit hungrier more often than they’d like to. No matter how many apples or pears (with or without almond butter) that I snacked on, I often felt a bit peckish. Which is to say that, for a month anyway, I resisted the urges to in snarf down whatever was handy whenever I felt hungry. (Which, in my house, usually meant something salty or sweet. Eating fruit as a snack was a huge departure for me. Blueberries ended up being my snack o’ choice.)
  • You will probably fail to drink as much water as some diets require you to. I never managed even half of the 100 ounces of water I was supposed to drink each day. Putting cucumbers in my water pitcher was the only way I managed even 50 ounces – and that was on a good day.

Luckily, there were also a few pleasant surprises resulting from the Great Dieting Experiment

  • I discovered how satisfying cucumber-flavored water can be. My pre-diet beverage-of-choice was the pre-bottled sugar-loaded lemonade Kroger sells. I do love that stuff, but I no longer will need to feel it’s something I must definitely keep on hand.
  • I discovered how amazingly satisfying and tasty gnawing on carrots – or eating a clementine – can  be. I’m not planning to leave off buying Fritos altogether, but I can certainly include those bite-sized (and not necessarily orange) carrots to the snack repertoire.
  • If you’re lucky enough to find the right variety of apples, you might cease to loath and even come to enjoy, eating apples. (The brand to buy is “Jazz Apples.”)
  •  Turkey bacon isn’t as boring as I’d thought it would be.
  •  Dieting might result in your stumbling across a really yummy new recipe to add to your cooking repertoire. For me, that happened with red cabbage soup. I made four batches (!) of this in my crockpot, and am still so happy with it that I feel compelled to include herewith the (so simple!) recipe:

RED CABBAGE SOUP WITH CHICKEN SAUSAGE

Ingredients:

  • ¼ to 1/3 head of red cabbage, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 box of frozen chicken sausage, warmed for five minutes in skillet and hacked into bite-size chunks
  • 2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth (I use Better-than-Bullion brand)
  • 3 dollops/tablespoons of rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

Instructions:

Dump all the ingredients into a crockpot and cook on High for 3 hours. Makes about five or six bowls.

The Upshot

According to the scales my friend Kris loaned me for the duration of the diet, I lost 14 pounds between February 1st and this morning (March 7th). My dieting wasn’t consistent (because of my trip to Florida and those couple of restaurant meals in February), and I did not, as the diet requires, follow the instructions strictly or appreciably increase my aerobic exercising. (A very short daily walk and tai chi routine ar the only exercise I regularly do, and neither the walking or the tai chi is aerobic.) My friend Randall, who followed the diet more strictly, lost over 20 pounds. So, yay!

While relieved to be free again of the strictures – and the radically different behavior patterns required by – the Fast Metabolism Diet, I expect that, at least for a while:

  • I’ll be more mindful about what and how I eat. Maybe fewer carbohydrates?
  • I am continuing to eat breakfast every morning – a radical departure from many decades of skipping it.
  • I’ll probably continue buying and eating more fresh grapefruti, mor pineapple, more blueberries, and more turkey bacon than I used to.
  • Fewer sugary snacks is a post-dieting habit I hope to continue, although, given how delectable eating my first post-diet hunk of non-sprouted bread was, I doubt that I am going to be eating appreciably less bread (or butter). I may – or may not – be able to cut down on the amount of cheese I eat (which was zero for the month of February).
  • I’m hoping the warmer weather will result in my automatically spending more time moving around in the garden. Maybe I will choose to use my bicycle instead of my scooter to do at least a few of my errands?

Finally, although the insights into my eating habits that I gained – and the weight I lost – was gratifying, this particular diet is, for me, far too rigorous and attention-requiring for me to resort to it again.

For me and my personality, the key to eventually achieving and maintaining my ideal weight (and/or waistline measurement) is probably that old and trusted friend of mine, moderation. The older and less active I become, the more moderate I’m apparently going to need to be, food- and exercise-wise.

And that’s not a bad thing.