It has been three-plus years since my retirement and it seems that I am just now getting the hang of it. It took a while, certainly, and I still might not have it right. After 40-plus years of working, it has been hard to slow down.
I actually used to get depressed at the end of the school year. I was a teacher, after all. And what is a teacher who isn’t teaching? The idea that we ARE what we DO, that our essential being is defined by work, had gotten into my head.
So I tried to stay equally as busy after I retired. I spent every day at the Historical Society and set a goal of writing a historical children’s story. I loved the research but my results were ….. unsatisfactory.
Then Covid hit, and the rest of the world retired, too. The talk was all about finding peace in idleness, not living to work, and making small happinesses within yourself. It felt right.
Being given permission to be ”lazy”, to not have to change the world all at once, was a gift.
So I can take a whole morning to read Jane Eyre in the park. I can sit by my garden and enjoy the company of the bees. I can think good thoughts and not demand that they funnel into immediate ACTION. I can live just to live, for a while.
The other day I decided to see just how loosely I could start a picture. The only decision I made was ‘blue’ and ‘circles’.
I swished these down and and left them to dry. An hour later when I came back, they looked pale and flat. I gave them some darker swooshes, and, while they were damp, some splatters of plain water.
Seeing that my scheme was working, I headed to the kitchen and collected my circular implements of art…. a shot glass, a tiny bowl, a bit of Tupperware…. and a tube of chapstick.
Once the paper was completely dry, I started tracing circles in dark blue water color pencil. I wanted to lay down colors in layers, so no black. Yet.
The tracing needs a steady hand, and I did a lot of drawing, stopping, and staring. I wanted it to be interesting but not chaotic, balanced but not symmetrical. I wasn’t trying to make planets, or wheels, or anything, really. Just interesting and pleasing to my eye.
I added a few more circles, the. realized it needed contrast, so some pink and fuchsia came out of the pencil box.
It was going in a good direction. But it was still too pale. Now was the time to get the black out. Auntie Bridgett gave me a size 005 micron pen, and I used it for details.
I think I am almost there…. some more black and maybe some white to pop out a bit, maybe.
I love art! After thirty years of classroom teaching and having to be absolutely sure about everything, it is nice to say “ I don’t know how that’s going to turn out” and be okay with it.
When I was teaching, how my calendar looked was not important. It could be plain as a mud fence, but it needed giant squares to write down the countless meetings and deadlines, units to be taught and parents to be met with. It wasn’t so much a decoration as external storage for my over-filled brain.
But now, between being both retired and quarantined, the look of my calendar can set the mood of my day. After Auntie Bridgett’s face, it is usually the first thing I see in the morning, and it’s nice to start off with something pretty.
Ruth’s calendar has twelve beautiful, bright alcohol ink prints. The colors are amazing and the paper they are printed on is heavy enough to frame (once their month has passed, that is). It is nice to know we are starting 2021 on a cheerful, colorful note.
As the Corona shut down continues into summer, the world outside continues to get more beautiful day by day. We have had an unusually cool summer so far in Portland. I remember our first summer here, with temperatures of 111 degrees for a few days, and am grateful that we are enjoying mostly mid-70s . This, plus a few random showers, have made the flowers very happy.
Being inside most of the time, I have tried my hand at water coloring different types of flowers. I started with daisies and moved onto sunflowers, shading them with colored pencils as needed. The other day I found a great picture of some coneflowers online, and worked to paint them.
I was pleased with my first attempt, and am working on my second. The slight tremor in my right hand isn’t getting in my way as much as I expected and I am feeling more confident.
Then yesterday, or our way to the market, we met this fabulous specimen! A real, live coneflower! I took her picture and will use it for my next attempt.
Art imitating life imitating art imitating life….. It’s a perfect cycle.
I am feeling better! Yesterday evening I walked around the block, did laundry, and even took the trash out. I will live!
Feeling so good, I will spend today making soup for Auntie Bridgett (who isn’t well yet), walking to do some errands and working on the story. But this morning, I was wondering what I was doing two years ago today. Do you remember?
I was packing up to come down to Salinas, to live with you for my last few months of teaching. That was the strangest thing…. leaving my home here in Portland to live in your home there, going back to a job I’d done for almost thirty years… Getting to see you every afternoon but having to work every day… such an odd combination of new and old, normal and weird.
And now I am retired, not getting up at six o’clock to teach until three and work until four; snacking when I want, reading what I want, walking where I want. I feel very spoiled.
And, except for missing my adventures with you, I’m okay with that.
Auntie Bridgett worked all day at the SideStreet Gallery today, so Grandpa Nelson and I went to the Portland Zoo, taking the number 15 bus and Red Line train. Of course, we have been to the zoo with Cousins Jasper and Kestrel, but going with just grown ups is a whole different experience. We were like our own island of calm in a sea of chatting, fussing, small people.
It was a perfectly Portland fall day, cool and cloudy but not raining. The animals were mostly up and about and, since I had no children to keep track of, I could really enjoy the critters.
On our way to the giraffes, which are Grandpa Nelson’s favorites, we stopped at the Columbus monkey enclosure. There was quite a crowd watching the new baby, sitting on a branch with his mom and learning to handle branches. His balance was precarious and every time the branch shifted, the crowd gasped. After a few minutes the father came over, and the baby became much less adventurous, seeming to keep Momma between himself and Big Dad.
The giraffes were delightful, walking elegantly around their enclosure, or leaning gracefully down for a drink. Grandpa Nelson says he likes them because they are quiet.
Having no children to keep track of, I got to watch everyone else’s. This was a zoo-going experience, too, watching this species of small human interact. I loved seeing the kids play with Jim Gion’s bronze sculpture group called Lunch Break, especially this little guy trying to be a cub.
It was also fun to see older siblings explain things to little brothers and sisters. “See this snake? See how you are red? He can tell you’re not a rock, so he can eat you!” And, on cue, the little brother squeals.
Something I had never seen was an elephant enjoying a swim in the big pool. A keeper was fielding questions and telling us all about elephants, while we watched this giant animal duck and squirt in the water like you do in your bathtub. I imagine it’s about has hard to get him out, too, when it is time!
We noticed that the zoo is already getting ready for Zoo Lights, a wonderful night event held in December where the zoo is open very late and all the trees are lit up, and animals made of neon tubes glow and move. It takes weeks to take the lights down after the holidays, more time to refurbish them, and then another few months to put them all back up. But it is a delightful, if chilly, outing that we will certainly do again this year.
By the afternoon we were worn out and got back home for snacks and naps, because we had a date for the evening, as well. Auntie Katie’s book store, Books with Pictures, was sponsoring a showing of the 1984 movie, “Supergirl”, at the Hollywood Theater. I had never seen it, since in 1984 I was up to my eyeballs raising your Daddy David and Auntie Katie.
It was exciting to see Katie in her element, sharing her love of comics with a theater full of people. The movie wasn’t fabulous, but it did feature three strong female characters: Supergirl, Lucy Lane (Lois’s younger sister) and the villain, Selena, played by Faye Dunaway in all her evil glory. We enjoyed the silly camp and headed home, totally worn out.
For being retired, I am certainly not bored! As my dad always said, “If you’re not having fun, it’s your own darn fault.”
I started writing this blog as a way to stay in touch with you and my friends in Salinas after I moved up to Portland. I thought I would write a little, get bored, and quit….like I usually do.
But Portland is such an interesting place that I keep finding things to write about. Today, as a matter of fact, is my 300th post. Three hundred adventures. Three hundred stories.
Portland is a big city, and has big city problems, like anywhere. The housing costs are high and homeless people struggle to get by. Trash and noise can be a nuisance. And if you are driving, there will eventually be traffic that frustrates you.
But there are also kind people and missions that help the homeless folks. Groups adopt neighborhoods to pick up trash. And transit is good enough that if you don’t want to drive, you don’t have to.
And the benefits of this lovely city are enormous. Art. Music. Parks. Art and music in parks! Food and drink and coffee and pastries.
And the reason I can enjoy all of this is because I am not working. Working, besides being…well, work, takes up an enormous amount of time. Days and days of NOT getting to walk at random and stop when you feel like it. Evenings of being so tired you can’t even think of an adventure.
Being at liberty is such a joy and privilege that sometimes I feel like I’m cheating.
But maybe if I share it with you I can share some of the joy, and feel less selfish.
This morning, the day after my big retirement shindig, was very quiet and slow. I am generally a get up, get dressed, get out and do stuff sort of person, but today I was still in my pajamas at one in the afternoon.
Liza and I played with her new huge set of Legos from Anne Crawford. It took over an hour, but Liza persevered and got it done. I literally stopped and smelled the roses that we had arranged for the party. I got to look at my lovely cards from friends, some of which accompanied a bottle of wine. I have such sweet friends here, which are really the only thing I will miss.
No, that’s not true.
I have lived in Salinas 36 years. I know , I would guess, more than a hundred people. I know where things are, which buses go where, how far a walk to this place, what the weather will be like. I even know this house, Uncle David and Auntie Olga’s house, better than I know my home in Portland….since it was purchased in February, I have slept there just 22 nights.
So what I will also miss, at least for a while, is familiarity.
But familiarity is also what I’m deliberately moving away from. The same houses on the same streets in the same neighborhoods. This feels reminiscent of moving away from home to go to college…ready to move, but anxious about change. Tired of the old, but worried about losing the comfort.
But your Great Grandpa Lowell was an optimist, and I am too. Time will march on, bring the new, make it comfy and warm. I will find my new normal, my comfort zone. I will put down roots in my transplanted soil and thrive.