Retired six years now

Through much of my working career, the question lingered: What do I want to be when I grow up?

The answer finally shaped up: Retired!

So it’s hard to think I’ve been retired six years now – make it seven if you include the early buyout that allowed me to work more flexibly in the newsroom for a year.

Frankly, I don’t feel retired – whatever that is. I don’t play golf or spend all day at the beach or play evenings of card games like bridge.

For me, what I wanted was more time to read and write and attend to Quaker matters and be out in the wilderness – that sort of thing. Do what Gary Snyder would call the Real Work.

My wife scoffed when she saw some of my early plans for retirement. Would I devote regular blocks of time to each pursuit? Would I rise at five to meditate and do yoga before moving on poetry or fiction?

Scoff? She was more infuriated that I wasn’t including time for household chores or gardening or togetherness along other kinds. Saw it as being self-centered.

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Suffice it to say those early scheduling ideas are far from what emerged. They didn’t include swimming laps every weekday, thanks to the brilliant Christmas present of an annual indoor pool pass from my elder daughter, who wisely decided I needed more exercise, seconding a motion from my physician.

Nor did they include being performing in incredible choir in Boston, which takes up the better part of a day. Or, more accurately, an afternoon and evening. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate making music on such a high level.

Nor was blogging on those blueprints. It’s wound up occupying more time than I expected, but it’s also freed me from the submissions process in getting work published – so timewise, I think it’s a bargain. And that includes having my own small-press imprint on my Thistle Finch line here at WordPress.

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I have been able to devote more blocks of time to the fiction, which has been satisfying, but I still feel myself pressed for time when it comes to doing all I want or should.

I’m still trying to make adjustments for the domestic needs, especially now that my wife’s back in the workforce.

The joke is I’m not really retired – I’m just not receiving a paycheck.

In retrospect, I’m surprised by how much writing I actually accomplished in my own time all those years I was employed. It gives me a deep well to draw on.

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Singing over beers

So there we were after choir rehearsal, more than 20 of us gathered for what’s called a pub sing.

It’s commonplace in England and Ireland, I suppose, but a rarity in the States.

In fact, this was my first encounter. One of our members had reserved a room at a tavern down the street.

Our Boston Revels organization hosts public versions of these during the year, but this was more impromptu. Yes, we had a stack of the organization’s songbooks, just in case. As our motto states, “Where tradition comes to life.”

Two of those present had birthdays, so we belted out in the traditional Happy Birthday song, in glorious four-part harmony – maybe more.

And then one basso voice continued in a dark melody with lyrics like “long ago your hair turned gray, now it’s falling out, they say,” or “it’s your birthday, never fear, you’ll be dead this time next year.” He was quickly joined by a soprano across the table in what became a competition to see who could remember lines the other didn’t know.

For those with a mordant sense of humor, it’s (UHH!) great fun. You can even Google it under the “Happy Birthday Dirge.” For the record, we sang it much better than any of the versions you’ll hear there.

Fortunately, my birthday had slipped past unnoticed just a few weeks earlier.

Maybe next year?

‘Vegan Before 6’ for Great Lent

As Quakers, we’re not confined to a liturgical calendar or its requirements. Even so, through much of our history, members of the Society of Friends lived within the limitations of strict discipline, which included plain dress like the Amish and plain speech of the “thee” and “thou” sort.

These have greatly loosened up over the past century, which is not to say we don’t live out a distinct set of values – we’re just more flexible or forgiving. Non-violence and pacifism, equality, simplicity, social justice, and truthfulness remain forefront in our daily lives. Few Friends I know smoke, and in our circles, I suspect the majority now drive Priuses as a consequence of faith. Many, but by no means all, participate in vigils or social witness demonstrations.

But being Quaker doesn’t preclude us from what Douglas Steere coined “mutual irradiation,” acknowledging that we can learn from others’ religious practices and experiences and encourage them in their own. It’s not the same as a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism, but rather a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by our differences. It’s something I’ve been enjoying among the Greek-Orthodox where I live, and found with Mennonites and Brethren earlier. It’s also a principal reason I participate in the Dover Area Religious Leaders’ Association and our joint services.

Of course, remarrying has changed some of my perspectives. With children, especially, there was no way of downplaying Christmas, not in contemporary American society. (Historically, Friends were among those who considered it a pagan import.) I’ve previously posted about the revolutionary ways observing Advent has helped me cope with the commercial assault of that holiday.

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Eliminating a liturgical calendar also meant we also didn’t observe Easter. (Every day was to be holy.) And without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Advent or Lent.

Leap ahead.

There’s no way to totally ignore these, not when no longer live in close communities of our own and are often the only Quaker in our workplace. On top of that, many of us come from other faith traditions and carry within us many of those teachings and traditions, one way or another.

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All of this leads up to to a desire in our household to use Advent and Lent as times of renewal and rededication. We try to do a special reading together, at the least, and usually give up alcohol.

For the record, by the late 19th century, most Quakers had banned alcohol altogether – it’s not uncommon to meet Friends who have never had a drink in their life. On the other hand, when I admitted to enjoying a glass of beer or wine, one old Friend replied, “Jnana, in thy occupation, we’d be surprised if thee didn’t.” Remember, I was a newspaper editor.

So, here we are in what the Eastern Orthodox call Great Lent, and I’m surviving without my daily martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Abstaining reminds me of just how habitual these things become. Besides, I believe saying “no” for a season can be strengthen one’s willpower for other decisions, too.

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One year, my wife and I went largely vegan for Advent. She had reviewed all of the Eastern Orthodox dietary rules for that observance and concluded they were essentially vegan with the additional elimination of olive oil and alcohol. Oh, and when she concluded that since olive oil would have been the only oil in the eastern Mediterrean, she extended the ban to all cooking oils.

It was a tough period, as I posted at the time. She did come up with some marvelous dishes all the same, but rather than being freed from considerations of food, she was spending more time trying to find ways to manage.

This year, for the period of Great Lent, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Remember, we’re not confined to the ancient regulations, we’re doing this voluntarily. (And, as I’ve learned, the Orthodox rules are only suggested, not required, of the faithful.) What we’re doing is inspired by food guru Mark Bittman’s book Eat Vegan Before 6:00. In short, we have more options when it comes to the evening meal – especially, as we’re applying this, on the weekends.

Since I’m already trying to observe a Healthy Heart diet, I’m not seeing a lot of change. The biggest challenge has involved my morning coffee, which is already down to a single cup a day, thanks to another medical restriction.

No, alas, there are no wonder substitutes for dairy.

Homemade almond milk comes closest – we find much of the commercial variety to be vile. But almonds are comparatively expensive, and soaking the nuts and grinding and straining take time.

Oat milk, made from oatmeal, starts cooking in hot liquid, leaving an unpleasant layer of sludge in the bottom of the mug.

Coconut milk tastes like coconut, which I find disconcerting.

Black coffee seems harsh on an empty stomach – a sliver of lemon helps a little, somehow.

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So I’m counting the days till Easter – the Orthodox version, which comes at the end of Passover, a full week later than the Western celebration.

Those dark-roasted coffee beans and the Cuisinart

The automatic coffeemaker came from a yard sale. A Cuisinart for, as I recall, five bucks or so. It even grinds its own beans at 4 in the morning, just like we ordered.

We like our brew with a Latin kick. Cuban roasted, for instance. Like espresso, which I turn au lait – or, in this case, Ole’!

Even curbing back my caffeine intake to a cup a day, as my doctor ordered, it’s heavenly.

Imagine rolling over in bed, hearing the grinder kick in downstairs, and then finding the pot freshly made.

What a way to say good morning to the world!

Carbohydrates in my dietary mix

Adapting to a Healthy Heart diet, which greatly limits my old fallback choices of cheese, eggs (with the yolks), and butter, has led to another shift in what I’m eating.

My carbohydrate intake has spiked. It’s bad news if I start to show indications of diabetes.

At least I don’t have to watch my salt levels, for now. That could be another whammy.

But I have decided that if I’m ever given a terminal prognosis, I’m going to go out with a bang. Load up on all that’s been curtailed, maybe start the day with bourbon or bubbly, that sort of thing.

Oh, who am I kidding. By then, I’ll probably have lost my taste for it all. Oh, shucky darn, right?