Halfway up, I met the barrel coming down …

If you haven’t read The Bricklayer’s Story by Gerard Hoffnung, do look it up. I had my own encounter with a barrel of sorts this morning, and Hoffnung’s monologue immediately came to mind.

I woke early especially for a Sunday morning, which is neither here nor there since every morning is ostensibly Sunday morning. My routine never varies: shuffle into the kitchen, press the brew switch on the coffee machine, pour milk into the milk frother, unload the dishwasher while waiting. My timing is impeccable. I also look cute. I have new pajamas. My husband, who never criticizes me, the love, gently suggested that I buy some pajamas and forsake the Home Depot T-shirt that has been my nightwear recently. Now I have some adorable cotton PJs – a pin-tucked top with spaghetti straps and cute billowy pants that make me feel like I am wafting through the Arabian Nights.

This morning, I had an extra task. I made yogurt last night. I know you are not surprised to learn that I make my own yogurt, but don’t be too impressed. All I do is pour milk into the container, add yogurt and press the button. It takes 10 hours and even has a chill cycle in case I sleep more than 10 hours. I feel about making yogurt much as I feel about using the slow cooker. I always tell people that slow cooking is not cooking, it’s just putting … you put the ingredients in the cooker and press start.

The yogurt maker sits on the shelf above the washer/dryer. It’s not very heavy and the shelf is not very high but it was definitely too early to be doing anything more strenuous than lifting a coffee mug. I stretched up to put the yogurt maker back in its spot, dislodging the pack of 10 paper towels balanced on the slow cooker that also sits on the shelf. Shielding my head as I let go of the yogurt maker, mercifully onto the shelf, I knocked off four packets of table napkins … bump, bump, bump, bump. Yes, I buy several packets at once. Again, mercifully, they were not heavy but the act of hitting my head made each of them drop over the edge of the washing machine. 170 disposable wipes followed – I buy in bulk on Amazon as it’s much cheaper!

So now I have a problem. I can’t reach over the machine because the sliding doors won’t let me and the angle prevents me from using a long wooden spoon or hanger to nudge the items up. I grab some tongs … remember, I’m still in my cute PJs and not feeling cute as I lie on top of the washing machine and gaze over the edge. I manage to get most of the wipes by judiciously grabbing them with the tongs. But all my lovely packets of table napkins are stuck. I have a beautiful beechwood 15-inch long dough whisk. It’s made in Poland, which is why I paid so much for it. Why can’t we make dough whisks here? Never mind, that’s a discussion for another time. I lean over and use the whisk to push one packet close to the tiny gap between the washing machine and the sliding door. Then I grab a large two-pronged fork from a carving set. I poke the plastic wrap with the sharp prongs and slowly inch the packet up until I can grab it. I do the same with the other three packets.

By this time, my coffee is cold. Cedric and Savannah are still blissfully asleep.

I’m still here!

FullSizeRender-7Party animal that I am, (friends will know immediately how unlikely that description is) I had two events last night. The first was a farewell to someone I worked with at The Home Depot, a smart, funny young girl who orchestrated the memory book the team gave me when I retired. The next event was a girls’ dinner – seven of us who are neighbors and two who have since moved. Do you know what an accomplishment it is to get nine gals together for dinner with not one bowing out at the last minute? At the first event, someone asked me if I had updated my blog recently. Nope! I must try to do better. It’s not that nothing exciting happens any more, it’s just that I don’t carve out time in a week to focus on writing. I’m too busy playing the piano – yes, really. I practice every day and my piano teacher, Nancy, comes every two weeks. I’ve graduated from Puff the Magic Dragon to Do-Re-Mi with both hands and sometimes as many as THREE notes at the same time on one hand. Thats big! Nancy says I won’t be ready for Carnegie Hall next year, but perhaps the following one.
Most of our lives are defined by milestones. Mine certainly falls into the pre- and post-Big R. It was wonderful to see my pre-Big R friends last night. I always feel like a rock star! Several new faces have joined the team and I love hearing what everyone is up to in their personal lives – new homes, relationships, even babies. It’s also fun to meet people who don’t know how important I used to be! And now I have a new group of friends – post-Big R friends, who I wouldn’t have met if I was still working every day. We share different priorities and everyone has a story to tell.
I have to admit, I did wake up with a faint hangover this morning. But what a joy to be able to turn over and sleep for another couple of hours. I’m now well into my second year of retirement and I’ve made some changes. I’ve stopped reading the newspaper every day. If Cedric thinks there’s something I’ll be interested in, he cuts the article out – my personal press cutting service. I also limit reading the news online and have banished my iPhone from the bedside table to the kitchen. I used to check email and news first thing in the morning with my coffee while still in bed. When I read that on average, Americans touch their cell phones 2,000 times a day, I knew it was time for a change. One suggestion from that article recommended buying an old fashioned alarm clock and that’s exactly what we did. Now, if I want to know the time when I wake up, I can see a lovely clock face with hands, the little hand on one number and the big hand on another. It has an alarm setting and although I know for working people that’s probably not accurate enough, it’s perfect for retirees like me when every day is Sunday.
The hummingbirds are back, too. We were worried for a while but I think the cold, wet spring confused them. Gotta go, this party animal is meeting a friend for lunch!

Retirement Recommendations

I wanted to title this “Retirement Advice” but a long time ago, I read the best advice ever: “My advice is never to give advice.” I thought it was a quote from Margaret Thatcher, but it could be from any number of wise people. So I’ll go with recommendations and, as I approach the one-year anniversary of my retirement, it’s as good a time as ever to take stock of the first year.

– Get the things on your bucket list done in the first six months. I’ve talked before of the retirement fog that descends and steals several hours out of each day. Each month, the fog lasts longer. If I don’t get something done by noon, it’s 6 p.m. before I regain consciousness.
– Stock up on toilet paper. When you’re home every day, it gets used up five times as quickly.
– Don’t make a housework schedule – it won’t work. I had lofty ideas of cleaning bathrooms on Monday, the kitchen on Tuesday, and so on. I even bought a fancy ceiling fan brush. I do far less housework than I thought I would. It’s not exactly to the point that I wait until I can write my name in the dust, but almost.
– I do far more laundry than I ever thought possible. It’s quicker to toss clothes in the laundry basket than fold and rehang. But I did learn one very important lesson: Modern fabric rarely runs. I no longer sort laundry into lights and darks. Whatever’s in the basket goes into the machine and I’ve been lucky so far and Cedric doesn’t yet have any splotchy T-shirts. That fact revolutionized my life, actually.
– Don’t upgrade to a new computer; or if you do, do so before your current machine becomes an antique (i.e. no more than five years). I blogged before about my Apple migration issues and they didn’t completely resolve. Having a dedicated Apple techie was a big help and I was impressed that I could email Anthony direct and ask him to call me at a specific time but I still had to move a lot to a hard drive. He told me he was confident I could do that myself without having to go to an Apple store, so I spent a whole afternoon moving photos, documents and music onto the drive. Unfortunately, the music albums had to be moved one at a time but then populated individually, so I have thousands of songs not grouped by album. As I didn’t remember even having most of the music, it’s not a big deal.
– You can recycle your old Apple devices. After wiping my old laptop, I have sent it off and eagerly await receipt of some dollars once the recycle company determines if there is any value left. The exercise was very easy; they send you a box and free shipping label; and easy-to-follow instructions. I only had to call them once … the last instruction shows you a screen shot of what you should finally see, but that’s it. They should add – Then Switch Off. Faced with a screen that asked me to log in, I wasn’t sure what to do.
– Once your body clock adjusts, make sure to set your alarm if you have to be anywhere before 10 a.m.

Retirement Accomplishments

– There’s a check mark against most of my bucket list items. I sorted my baking pans; tossed numerous measuring spoons (quite why I had so many, I don’t know); purged my recipe folders (quite why I cut every recipe out of the newspaper when I have so many cookbooks, I don’t know); made a new cover for my beloved ironing board; finished my Gypsy Wife Quilt, including the backing (typically you use just one fabric for the backing of a quilt but I pieced lots of bits of fabric together to use up more scraps (quite why I had so much fabric, I don’t know – except that with quilters, she who dies with the most fabric wins); purged hangers (I know, I know – she who dies with the most etc. etc.).
– I’m reading Les Miserables in a marvelous translation. There are more than 300 chapters so I followed a recommendation to read one chapter a day and finish it in a year. I’ll miss my target but plan to finish during 2018.
– I’ve found an outlet for my love of baking. I missed taking goodies into the office, but I’ve joined a Women’s Bible Study group and they are delighted when I bring in yummies each week.
– One of my biggest accomplishments is taking piano lessons. I just started and will have my third lesson this week. It’s pretty pitiful so far but I can gingerly plonk away at Jingle Bells, Puff the Magic Dragon and a couple of other simple tunes. I waited for a wonderful singer/pianist, Nancy, to retire from her day job. We met Nancy a long time ago when she was the music director at the first church we attended when we moved to Atlanta. She did give me one bit of advice: Just enjoy it. And I’m taking that advice wholeheartedly and following it every day of my enjoyable retirement.

Transferring affection from one Big A to another

This week, I’ve formally transferred my affection from one Big A to another. I’ve weaned myself off my one-click addiction with Amazon and spent more time talking to Apple than to Cedric. My geriatric (in techie-speak) Apple laptop threatened to die on the job so it was definitely time to retire it. I remember when I bought it in 2009 and asked how long it would last, I balked at the answer of “three years.” When I questioned why so soon, they explained that in three years, I would be ready to upgrade because technology was moving so fast. They were right – so after nine years, I didn’t have a hope. It’s hard to change something when it’s not actually broken, but when I pressed the power button (now there is NO power button), I could go into the kitchen and make coffee before it groaned into life. I couldn’t watch videos and none of the software was supported. And, gasp, it even has a built-in DVD/CD slot.

So, off to Apple we went. Nine years ago, they migrated all the information from another laptop onto the new Apple and I went back two days later to pick it up. Now, they don’t even offer to do that. If I’d known they would just hand me the laptop and expect me to walk away and do it myself, I would have ordered online. The mighty Apple system at the store sadly didn’t work as planned and the 20-minute wait time they forecast turned into an hour. I think the issue might have been that they describe what you are wearing so the next techie comes out and looks for you. I was wearing a black leather jacket – mistake! I think someone wearing a leather jacket jumped the line by answering to my name. Next time, I will wear fluorescent fuchsia.

In any event, we walked out with various bits and pieces in addition to the laptop. The tech world is apparently in the process of changing USB ports so you need extra connection cords for everything …. uh huh! And then of course I need a DVD player now. Back home, I first backed up my old laptop to a hard drive. At the store, the techie used a good analogy recommending that I first purge my old laptop. He said it was like moving house – you want to toss junk first so that you aren’t moving it. My delete button worked overtime. But unfortunately, I had something highlighted in iTunes and I deleted a whole lot of albums when I thought I was just deleting one song – oops! I plugged in the hard drive. When nothing happened, I made my first call to Apple Support. She helped me format the drive. Hmmm, who knew it needed formatting? Apple did, I guess. I left it running. The next time I looked, it was chastising me because the hard drive was full. I subsequently learned that the hard drive has 1TB of memory – I get a bit confused with MGs and GBs, but I understand that TBs are huge. I made my second call. He helped me erase everything on the hard drive – all 1TB of it – whatever “it” was because somehow it was already full out of the box. That happens apparently. So I proceeded to run the hard drive back-up.

This was still Monday. By Thursday, and many, many calls later, I was still no closer to migrating my information. Finally, at 1 p.m. the techie admitted he was at a loss and looped in a supervisor. On the line came Anthony and I was on the phone with dear Anthony until 5 p.m. During that time, while various pieces were restoring and backing up, Anthony took at least one break, Amanda took several breaks to spend a penny, took Savannah out, made tea and got out her knitting. In between, Anthony and I had the phone line open and he was sharing screens on my laptop, phone and iPad. Finally, at 5 p.m. all my Apple devices were syncing and I was good to go. The issue apparently was that my old laptop was exactly that – old, and none of the inner instructions worked as nothing recognized the old stuff. In fact, one techie kept telling me she felt helpless as she had never been asked about such an old machine. Anthony is now my dedicated techie – they give you one when the system triggers you as loyal, exhausted, dedicated and deserving of a medal. I even have his extension number. And I’m so special that this Tuesday, he will call me to check in and make sure everything is working. Gotta love Apple! And I do love my new MacBook Pro with touch bar … it’s so purty!!!!!

Just grab a cart – it’s simple!

Do you ever see those women (usually women) in a store with their arms full of products balanced up to their necks and wonder why they didn’t grab a cart? I do. I was one of them today. This morning, I took Savannah for her annual checkup and shots. The veterinary practice is in a huge pet store and when we were done I made my way to the collar and leash aisle to buy her a new set. I didn’t have a cart because they are all lined up at the front of the store and by this time I was half a mile away – heaven forbid I would have to walk back up to the front. An associate helped me pick out a new harness and matching (of course) leash. Actually, it’s very different. It’s basically two pieces of sturdy fabric linked at each end to make an oval shape. That’s it. Savannah stands with her front paws in the oval and I draw the ends up over her back and click them together. When the associate took it off the hook and recommended it, I said it didn’t have enough cute fabric. She retorted that cute fabric to me might not feel that good on a dog’s back and tummy. OK, I got it. Fortunately, she took the two items up front as I wanted to get some dog food. I grabbed a big bag and two small containers of equivalent soft food and, balancing them all in my arms, proceeded to make my way back the half mile to the registers. Suddenly, I felt Savannah resist and looked round. Yep, a nice big pee in the middle of the aisle. They have clean-up stations located everywhere. I put the food down on top of a pile of doggie cushions, grabbed a wad of paper and bent over. My bag had been slipping off my shoulder all morning but mercifully did NOT slip off in that direction. But my knitted hat slipped completely down over my eyes. I had put it on to save time doing my hair. I should have remembered that retirees get a pass on hair styling, especially before noon. I tried unsuccessfully to push the hat back up with an elbow as both hands were busy – one wiping, the other holding a leash. So now I’m standing there with a hat down to my nose and holding something like a smelly diaper. I somehow made it back to the clean-up station to throw away the wad of paper, picked up the food products and proceeded as planned.

I was behind a couple of people at the register so wasn’t close enough to put my products down on the conveyor belt. I pulled Savannah’s leash to bring her closer to me. She resisted and I looked around. Yep, a nice big poop in the middle of the aisle. I’m not kidding. I think the meds had affected her social niceties big time. By this time, I had torn off my hat and shoved it in my bag. Fortunately, I saw a rack of baskets so walked over, grabbed one, put it on the floor, and plopped the products into it. That was the first sensible move. Then I proceeded to the clean-up station, grabbed a wad of paper … you get the idea.

The motto of this story is: “Always grab a cart first!”

This winter is never ending

After another sub-zero day in Atlanta, I realize why I’m longing for this winter to be over. In an office, one doesn’t realize it’s another freezing day outside. I was cushioned from the day-in day-out cold. When we first moved to Atlanta, everyone said the winters were mild and the summers were very very hot. They lied! Winters are much colder than I thought they would be, compounded by the fact that everyone deludes themselves that southern winters are mild so our homes are not built for the cold. When we stand next to a window, we can feel the cold air blowing in. And although it does get humid in summer, I don’t find the summers unbearable. The first thing I do now when I wake up is check the weather forecast and often send a text to a family member in England letting them know it’s colder here than there. I’m fixated on the weather and I think it’s all part of the rich panoply of being retired – I have time to check several apps at once to make sure they all agree on the current temperature. Sad but true.

Happy New … Easter. New Year came and went and I haven’t updated my blog in a while, and it will likely be Easter before I update it again. This I blame on the fact that where I was retirement-busy before, now I’m really busy as I’m doing some work for my old team. I’m working remotely and it’s fun to be back in touch with everyone. I’ll work as much as they need me over the next few months – just a few hours a week. But the New Year was a good time to clean out my kitchen cupboards and toss anything that was old. I’m not too fanatic about sell-by dates, but some of my herbs and spices were embarrassingly old. Even though I cook and bake a lot, there’s a limit to how much lemon oil one can use. But when I looked at the best-before date, I balked. Do you know how much it hurt to toss the bottle that was still one-third full, even though the best-before date was 2005. Yep! Ouch!

I got rid of so much that I practically have to restock every jam, herb and spice. The containers are way too big, even if you buy the small ones. It takes forever to use dried herbs and spices, even cumin that I use daily. I will buy the tiniest sizes going forward. Except for Marmite. We can find only the small sizes here and I long for a giant jar. Marmite is a yeast spread and every English boy and girl is raised on Marmite sandwiches or Marmite on buttered toast. It’s the equivalent of peanut butter and jelly (which, I just cannot eat, sorry.) I’ve often made Marmite sandwiches for Americans to try … and have yet to find someone who will eat them. It’s very strong and salty and it must be spread very thinly. It’s NOT like Vegemite which the Australians eat. Vegemite is brown and grainy like eating dirty sand. No, no, Marmite is almost black, thick and glossy and when you touch it with a spoon or knife, a curl appears and stands upright inviting you to lick. The jars are wide and squat, made of black glass with bright yellow caps. You can find it quite easily in the International section of most groceries stores, along with pickled onions, baked beans and HP Sauce (more on those delights in another post). But beware. If you buy it, spread it very very thinly. It’s very strong and I can’t even lick the spoon or eat the residue on the side of the plate if I’ve taken too much. That’s how they make their money. I believe it was the founder of Coleman’s mustard who said he made his money not from the mustard people ate, but from the mustard they left on the plate. That’s Marmite for you. Must go – gotta make a Marmite sandwich.

Merry Christmas … cake!

It’s ready! More than three months in the making; at least half a bottle of rum; marzipan; royal icing – we are ready for Christmas. The cake was so soporific last weekend that I hesitated adding that final quarter cup of rum. It had nowhere to go – the poor cake simply could not soak up any more. So I turned it over and sloshed it on. Earlier this week, I made marzipan from scratch using ground almonds. If I’d known how easy it was, I’d have made it before, instead of buying it in tiny cans and mushing it all together to roll it out. So now I know. The marzipan layer dried for a few days and I iced the cake today. I’ve been making this cake from the same recipe for more than 40 years, except for one monumental fail when i experimented with another recipe from a famous chef who will remain nameless. In all these years, I’ve never thought of adding vanilla essence to the icing, which is egg whites and icing or confectioner’s sugar with a squeeze of lemon juice. So, I added some vanilla. Now I know why recipes for royal icing don’t include vanilla. Vanilla is dark brown. Royal icing is snowy white. Oops! It looks more like buttercream than fresh white snow. Never mind, it will taste fine and no one will know. Now I understand why recipes don’t include vanilla. The images below show you the cake when it came out of the oven in September; the marzipan layer – a bit patchy; and the royal icing, which looks pretty good in the photo. It’s rather bare because I lost my cake decorations during one international move years ago and every year I forget to buy a new set.

Tomorrow, we will have the grand cutting of the cake. it’s our Christmas Eve tradition. We will toast each and every one of you as we drink/eat the first bite. Cedric and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed, happy, healthy and joyous 2018.

Just bakedMarzipanIced