Must try harder …

I dreaded reading the words “Amanda must try harder” on my report card, usually appearing in the math section. But I really must try harder and update my blog at least monthly. When I posted last night, the website looked entirely different after an update and I had to search for my password. But I just paid $$ to continue my website subscription and that hurts for a static screen. I mentioned before that when I started blogging and researched other retirement-themed sites, I couldn’t figure out why some hadn’t been updated for several years. Now I understand totally – the retirement fog descends and blankets several hours in the day so there are really only six hours in my waking day. And those hours are filled with yoga, piano, Bible journaling, reading, baking and getting involved in a new church that we’ve recently joined. And, of course, there are endless hours spent walking, combing, bathing, brushing teeth and counseling Savannah on the correct way to behave.

So, just to update you:

Yoga: I continue to enjoy daily practice with free online classes. I know I’ll never be able to twist myself into a pretzel, but it’s fun saluting the sun, folding in half, becoming conscious of my breath, standing like a tree and trying to spread my toes. Look at any yoga video paying close attention to the teacher’s toes. They can spread those toes giving them a far wider platform to balance on than a normal person. With my narrow feet, I just keep toppling over.

Piano: I’m still playing daily. I’ve taken a short hiatus from lessons but will start those again next month. One way I know I’m improving is to play a piece from Book 1 and it seems so easy now. I remember the first piece where I had to play two notes together with one hand. There was an annotation that said, “Play those two notes at the same time.” It’s laughable now, but I recall finding it very challenging. Now, I can play three notes with both hands – not necessarily the correct ones – and it’s still a source of wonder and amazement that I can read the notes on the score. I can also play a couple of two octave scales with the correct fingers. But then I watch You Tube videos of child prodigies and feel very discouraged.

Bible journaling: My journaling Bible is full of paint, stickers and drawings. It’s great fun and there’s no wrong way or mistake. I made a terrible blotch with watercolor paint yesterday, but simply added more paint, let it dry and drew free-flowing flower shapes round the blotches. You’d never know it wasn’t by design.

Reading: A couple of neighbors started a Book Club. We meet once a month over wine and appetizers and take turns to select the book. Next month, it’s my selection: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. There’s also a wonderful film, worth looking for. And, big drum roll – I finished reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, albeit in translation. It’s 1,300 pages and took me about 18 months. My goal was a chapter a day, but sometimes it was so depressing a tale that I just couldn’t face it and gave myself a day off. We are now watching the six-episode television special and they have done a wonderful job of condensing the story into six hours.

Baking: My three-layer chocolate cake is always requested and becoming famous. I made it for a neighbor’s 75th birthday party this week and am making it again today for a church function tomorrow.

Church: We have joined Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church. We felt it was time to return to the Anglican community in which we were both baptized. We had to find our baptism details for our membership forms. Cedric was baptized in France in 1931 and I was baptized in London in 1998. I’m already on the Prayer Shawl Ministry, where we knit blankets and shawls for parishioners who need to be wrapped in prayer. The church blesses the items during a Sunday service. I’m on a committee helping put together classes/Sunday school for the next year and Pontius Pilate had a British accent during the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday.

That’s it for now. I’ve got the bit between my teeth and if you follow this blog, you’ll be inundated with new posts … until I get too busy. Enjoy the spring!

Mary Poppins with a bite

The other evening, a neighbor and I walked into our building together. As we walked up the steps toward the elevator lobby, we were almost mowed down by three impossibly tall, impossibly boisterous and impossibly entitled high school seniors coming in through a side door from the parking deck. They charged into the elevator lobby ahead of us. The elevator doors opened and they stampeded in. That got my dander up. Not only had they almost run us down, but this was plain bad manners. I held out my arm to stop the doors from closing, pointed at each boy in turn and said, “Out, out, out!” Good as gold they all filed out. I continued to hold the door, gestured for Lora to get in, followed her, then turned around and said to the three boys, “OK, come on. Just remember, ladies first, next time.” They looked horrified. One boy said, “Is it OK to ride with you?” I repeated they could get in and the doors closed.

For them, the two-floor ride must have been interminable. I continued my lecture. “Don’t forget, ladies first always. All you have to do is pause for a moment and think.” When the doors opened on the second floor, which was where Lora was getting off, one of the boys made a forward movement. His friend pulled him back when he saw Lora was getting off. They all had the good grace to laugh and said, “Ladies first!”

I wondered if the lesson would stick, and got my answer two days later. I had taken Savannah out and was waiting at the back door elevator when I heard kids coming down the hall. Round the corner, came one of the impossibly tall, impossibly boisterous and impossibly entitled boys, followed by at least six impossibly pretty young girls. The elevator doors opened and I said, “I’ll wait for the next one – it’s too crowded with Savannah.” The girls trooped on, followed by the boy. He turned and grinned. I said, “Nice manners, letting all the girls on first.” “Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. “I heard what you said and I remembered.”

Year in Review

This should be titled “Retirement in Review.” Since I retired, the months have blurred. The year has passed in seasons rather than time, but I looked back at my retirement bucket list and see that almost every project has a check mark against it. For a list maker, this is an awesome feeling!

Completed:

Pruning and purging: This is a never-ending project, and it’s therapeutic. Drawers are tidy, the locker is accessible and my dolls house, which needed more love, has a new home. It is giving much pleasure to the three daughters of my friend, Heather. She says the elaborate stories they make up sometimes last for days and the photos she sends make me smile with delight.
Piano lessons: My piano teacher, Nancy, visits every two weeks, which gives me more time to practice in between. I can hardly believe I am able to read most of the musical notes – albeit, not always correctly – and play a somewhat recognizable tune. I call every song the “hesitation” version, but I am more than thrilled to be taking piano lessons at this stage in my life. You really are never too old to do anything.
Yoga: If I have any regret in my life, it would be that I didn’t take up yoga earlier. I have tried vaguely over the years but could never still my mind long enough. Perhaps I needed to retire to be able to concentrate on the breathing. I have found free online classes and rarely miss a day. Savannah often joins me on the mat and lies under me when I do a down dog. Now I understand why yogis love yoga. It’s not always a tangible benefit, but I think I am standing taller and breathing deeper and more consciously throughout the day.
Miscellaneous quilting projects: She who dies with the most fabric wins. I used a lot of my fabric in my Gypsy Wife Quilt, but there’s plenty more left in my sewing room. My latest project is a portrait of Savannah that turned out really nicely.
Italian refresher: Use it or lose it. I’m listening to Italian Talk Radio which is hilarious because although I understand the words, I have no idea what they are talking about. And they talk SO fast! You’ll be pleased to know the news anchors interrupt the people they are interviewing as much in Italian as they do in English and the questions are three minutes long and the answer is often a simple “Si.” The weather and traffic reports sound so romantic!
2019 Projects:
Hula hooping: It’s been either too cold, too wet, or too hot, and I haven’t done as much as I planned. I’ll review my online lessons as soon as it’s not too cold, too wet or too hot! Yep!
Less screen time: Oh dear, I’ve failed. But in 2019, if I don’t respond to a text immediately, it’s because I’ve hidden my iPhone for an hour or so.
Merry Christmas from Cedric and me and a happy and healthy New Year.

Modern communication method

Married couples often don’t communicate verbally. A raised eyebrow, a flared nostril, a tightening in a shoulder speak volumes. Men get “the look” and they know exactly what it means! Women get the “huh?” grunt – don’t ask!
Cedric and I, after 40 years of marriage, have discovered a new non-verbal way of communicating: the trusty flashlight (torch for my one foreign reader).
When I take Savannah out, the driveway curves gently down to the main road. There’s a nice wide sidewalk and plenty of sniffing material. I turn right out of our building, through an archway on the corner and under five huge fir trees that drip nicely on us if it’s been raining. Another 20 yards or so, and the curve brings us into Cedric’s line of sight from his study window. He picks up a hefty flashlight and when I turn and wave and Savannah wags her tail, he waves the flashlight from side to side. We continue walking. Depending on the temperature, if I decide to walk all the way to the road, I raise my arm overhead palm open and indicate “forward we go.” I look back and Cedric acknowledges with an up-and-down movement. We continue walking.
En route, Savannah hopefully does her business (sorry, too much information here) and I duly pick up her offering in a green poop bag. Refer to blog post a long time back on poop bags if you are interested. We turn round at the road and make our way back up the driveway. Once in Cedric’s line of sight again, I see the flashlight and wave the green bag. He acknowledges “what a good girl” with a huge up-and-down arc. Just before the fir trees remove us from the sightline, we both wave happily. I’m not sure why we derive so much pleasure from our flashlight semaphoring but after 40 years, it’s just as meaningful as talking.

An unexpected blessing

I’m back in the saddle and anticipate updating my blog a little more regularly now that it’s colder and I won’t be spending so much time on the porch watching the hummingbirds. They have come and gone this year with nary a blog mention – not a lot else has got a mention actually. I’m too busy being retired.

I had an unexpected blessing last week when I went to a class at the quilt shop located directly across from our favorite French bakery, Douceur de France. En route, I stopped into the bakery to get some croissants and other delights to take home. I came out clutching several bags and boxes went round to the passenger side of my Jeep, managing to get the door unlocked and open without dropping anything. When I got into the driver’s side, it wasn’t my keys I couldn’t find, it was my sunglasses. And not just any sunglasses – these are prescription Ray-Bans and include every available bell and whistle: bifocal, non-glare etc. I automatically patted my head but they weren’t parked there. I got out, locked the doors, and went back into the bakery to ask if I’d left my sunglasses at the register while paying. Nope. The nice young man helped me look on the counters, but I said they must be in the Jeep somewhere. Outside, I emptied my purse and had a good hunt. Nope. I went back into the bakery. I’d been to the ladies room and although unlikely, thought perhaps they had been parked on my head and dropped off. Of course, there was a line for the loo. I had a quick look round. Nope. I told the cashier I was going to a class across the street and would call him later to see if anyone had handed them in. I got back into the Jeep, backed out of the parking space, drove through the potholed parking lot and onto a very busy three-lane road, turning left at the intersection and down the very bumpy residential road that leads to the quilt shop. There, I greeted the instructor who had just parked, moaned about losing my sunglasses, opened the back of my Jeep and unpacked the paraphernalia that accompanies every quilter to quilt class. I walked round to the passenger side to grab my bottle of water and, as I reached for the door handle, there were my sunglasses hooked onto the handle, saying, “Hi there!”

I can’t even recreate how they got caught there when I opened the door to put the croissants on the passenger seat. I must have had them in my hand when I unlocked the door. But, bless their heart, they clung on to that door handle for dear life the whole way over to the quilt shop. An unexpected blessing indeed!

Singularly unhelpful

Not many positive things came out of my years at boarding school. I do credit lights out at a certain time and no talking in the dorm to my skill at consistently getting a really good night’s sleep. I also obey the rules. I never exceed the speed limit; immediately get into the correct lane when I see the “right lane merges FOUR MILES ahead” sign; walk through customs at the airport shaking, just in case, although I don’t have anything illegal in my bags. This all stems from being terrified of my math teacher, Mrs. McFee, and trying my best to become invisible in her class and not doing anything wrong. I also try my best to avoid school-like experiences although recently I have been walking Savannah through the lovely grounds of a posh school nearby and am learning to relax on campus and hope the children there are not scared of their teachers.
But right now I feel like my 12-year-old self who has just been admonished by Mrs. McFee and told not to sit in the back looking like the Mona Lisa. To understand how dreadful that sounded way back then, you have to imagine the tweed suit, the brogue shoes and the thick Scottish accent. I’ve written before how I blame Mrs. McFee for my fear of numbers. The Mrs. McFee equivalent was the woman who answered the phone at our local post office. Briefly, our USPS (United States Postal Service for my one foreign reader) mail is delivered to a central mail room because there are more than 500 apartments on campus. We each have a small mailbox and a key. Large parcels are placed in another room that has medium and large lockers and there’s a very efficient system that sends you an email or text with a code to open the locker door. Until a few months ago, large parcels were delivered to an unlocked room and dumped on the shelves. So I was surprised to find a USPS card telling me I had a large parcel that had to be picked up at the post office. I know what it is: a yard of fabric shipped from Taiwan. Don’t ask – no, I couldn’t find what I wanted online in the U.S. But large parcel? It can be folded into a 6-inch square. I called the post office and explained my dilemma – that large parcels get placed in the special locker room that was constructed especially for large parcels. Oh boy, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that our address has experienced mail being stolen from the boxes. Again, I tried to explain that my delivery wouldn’t go in the mail box but in the LARGE locker. She didn’t exactly hang up on me, but said I would have to come to the post office myself, before indicating plainly that our conversation was over.
I thought I was going to cry. And to add insult to injury – the post office is located on a horrible road, filled with potholes and totally out of my way. The famous columnist, Mary McGrory, who terrorized politicians for four decades and is known as The First Queen of Journalism, once wrote a column complaining about the surly service she had received at her local post office. She received  a phone call from the Postmaster General himself. I’m standing by …

I’m late, I’m late!

Actually, I’m a punctual person and rarely late. I’m not sure if it’s a character trait or a skill that’s learned. I was talking to someone recently about the skill of getting a good night’s sleep. Many of my friends don’t sleep well. I’m blessed. I consistently get eight hours’ uninterrupted sleep a night and I wonder if it’s the one positive result of going to boarding school. But back to the skill of being punctual. Although I’m not late, I often feel a bit frantic like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It’s all self imposed. Now, in addition to all my retirement projects, I’m taking two free online yoga classes; leading a weekly Bible study on the book of Jeremiah; and making ricotta cheese. I also bought an annual subscription to the High Museum, which means I must go several times to get my money’s worth. It was worth it already, though – I saw the Winnie the Pooh exhibition, on loan from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It was wonderful. I came home and pulled out all our Winnie the Pooh books. It was amazing to look at the pictures and know that I’d seen the originals that morning, some with the perforations down the side of the paper that had been pulled out of a notebook. On several images, you could see the faint outline of the original draft.
And I bought TWO, yes, TWO new sewing machines.
Let’s start with yoga. I’m terrible. I think I’m more pitiful at yoga than I am at playing the piano, so that means I am actually improving at the latter. My dear teacher, Nancy, comes every two weeks and says she can see improvement although my timing is abysmal and I might have to buy a metronome. She has so far avoided slapping my wrists, but I can see her hands twitch when I play a crochet instead of a quaver or whatever. But it is sort of miraculous that I am playing recognizable tunes and, more important, I am absolutely loving it and practice every single day – scales, arpeggios and even Beethoven – albeit, very very simple arrangements. But the yoga is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that’s probably why I’ve never taken it up. I regret not having taken more interest in the yoga classes offered at school – goodness, I could be an instructor after all these years. I have never been very flexible, so the poses are very challenging, but I will persevere and the classes are for a month, so we’ll see. Jeremiah is also challenging. Perhaps if he’d done yoga, he wouldn’t have been so miserable all the time. I keep telling the Women’s Bible Study Group that I am leading not teaching, which lets me off the hook a bit. And that will be completed at the end of August, although I have a sneaking suspicion I will get volunteered to lead another study. They all think I know everything about the Old Testament and I keep telling them that I rely totally on my Study Bibles and the Internet. I think it’s my British accent – they think I know what I’m talking about! The ricotta cheese is brilliant – the hardest part is bringing a half-gallon of milk to almost boiling without scalding the bottom. Then add a quarter cup lemon juice. Let sit about five minutes; strain; and that’s it. And then the sewing. I traded in one sick machine for a super duper new one and then I saw an amazing tote bag on display in the store, made on a serger – so I came out with two machines. Sewing machines are like shoes – you can never have enough.
So, retirement is not slowing down at all. I had lofty ideas of updating this blog frequently and often. Then I thought, maybe every week … then once a month. Goodness, at this rate, it’s going to be annual so I might just rely on my Christmas newsletter. When I was researching a name for my blog, every catchy name with the word retirement as part of the blog name was already taken. But the last entry on almost every blog I looked at was at least one or two years old. I couldn’t figure it out – why start a blog and then have it fizzle out? Ha, now I understand totally – who has the time?