Wednesday, July 5, 2017

1 Year Later

4 of Sheila's 5 Grandkids

It’s the 4th of July 2017 and we’re about to head out for a party at Gina’s house in Cedartown GA. Gina has a ranch, replete with horses, goats, ducks, dogs, cats and other assorted animals. I think this is a pretty big affair, lots of friends along with the usual family clan. Oh, Gina is Sheila’s younger sister … sorry, sometimes I forget that not everyone knows my whole life story …
The Rhoden girls ... Linda, Sheila, Gina
Sheila is making a cake for the party, it’s sort of a test balloon for our wedding in September. Sheila really wants to make our own wedding cake rather than paying someone outrageous coin for a cake (Sheila is practical and energetic, willing to make the cake and save some nickles whereas I would just laze out and pay someone too much), plus she makes pretty good cakes. Sheila baked the first test version for my birthday a few weeks ago and I LOVED that one, but she’s trying a few different ideas before settling. It’s a good thing we have family right here … we can off-load some of this cake without having to eat the whole thing (Sheila can tolerate a little extra weight since she’s skinny bones, but I sure as heck don’t need to put on a lot of weight) (It took me a full year to lose that last 100 pounds) (But dang, that cake is awfully good!!!)

While on the subject of baking, when did THIS happen??
Not even trying to hide the fact that they are ripping us off

Four pounds? Really?It's bad enough that coffee is now 12 or 13 oz., do we really need to get hosed for 1 pound of sugar? I feel violated, and I'm not even baking the cake ... but I do use sugar when making ice cream & gelato, so I have a right to gripe. (I'm quite proficient at ice cream and gelato preparation) 

So, while Sheila is cake-making, I’m sitting here typing and watching YouTube (Live at Darryl’s House, good series) (This one has Jason Mraz, a fav of Sheila’s) (I do like Darryl Hall). Watching the players on the show makes me think of how cool it has been to be hosting rehearsals here at the house, just a bunch of musicians playing music for themselves and not worrying about whether anyone is walking out of the club, or if it’s too loud, or too soft. If someone blows a note or skips a beat, our not-Live-At-Darryl’s-House players just laugh it off and run through it again. A bunch of good guys, all retired, not stressing, enjoying playing … like a mini “Live at Darryl’s House” in a way.
Not Live @ Darryl's House 
Of course, while sitting here typing and listening to music (while Sheila does all of the work baking), I’m sipping on some seltzer, coolio raspberry flavor, and proceed to spill it all over the new carpet … I’m just lucky it was seltzer and not some funky dark staining color. Madison came to the rescue and slurped up most of the mess, so overall no big damage done. (Yes, I fessed up to Sheila, she was outwardly fine with it) (Probably doing the silent scream in the inside, though). Bella just looked at me with the disdain only smart dogs can pull off ...
Bella's "You're an idiot" look

Today is actually 1 year ago that Sheila and I “met”. Actually, our first interchange was yesterday, July 3rd, but our first real 1-to-1 interaction was on July 4th, just a simple what-are-you-doing-for-the-holiday thing (Sheila with Shauna & fam, me at niece Gretchen & Sarah’s house). It was a tough holiday for both of us, first time being alone without our respective spouses in a social environment. We commiserated later that night about how the day went and wrote a bit about the sadness of it all. But inside, I knew something rather wonderful was happening, I just didn’t realize it was going to completely change my life.

And here we are, 1 year later, living together, engaged to be married and both happier than we ever thought possible.  For a whole lot of you that follow this blog I know it may seem like I have a tendency to drone on and on about Sheila, but she has literally saved my life in  every possible way. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her, but it sure as heck wouldn’t be this.

I started writing this blog just about a year ago, too. My original intent was to tell others who were in my position (recently widowed after a long period of illness) how I was coping with everything. As my relationship with Sheila expanded, the blog was a way to let others know that life after loss doesn’t have to be terminal in its own way, that we can find happiness and continue to live … we just need to keep our eyes open and our hearts available for the possibility of additional love.

Finding a new love doesn’t in any way diminish all of those feelings you have for your departed partner. If anything, it frees you to explore a whole new set of feelings that may have been repressed, or lost, or forgotten as the cause that ended the life of your sig other took over every emotion you had. I know, in my case, I was so bogged down in the slow countdown to the end that those thoughts and emotions of the eventuality of it all took priority over feelings of joy, love, happiness and expectation. And while the loss was devastating, the feeling of renewal after meeting Sheila was incredible.

We both were very careful as the relationship developed, making sure the feelings that arose were not merely a reaction to the losses we both experienced. Neither one of us was looking for a temporary solution or momentary gratification … quite the opposite, in fact. I fully expected to be alone for the rest of my life, as did Sheila. I certainly didn’t expect to retire, move to Georgia and become engaged, that’s for sure!

I write this blog as a sign of hope, a real-life example of the good things that can happen if you are willing to open yourself up again. As I’ve said many times over, if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone!

The party was a huge success, as was the cake! Carmon, Gina's sig other, cooked more pork butt than all of us could ever eat, even though we stuffed ourselves way past the point of sensibility. The weather could have cooperated more, but despite some rain it was a great day!
5 of the 7 smoked pork butts
Pulled and ready to eat!
The chef's
Gratuitous goat pic for my brothers
Happy 4th of July!
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Sheila Said "Yes!"

Sheila and I were in Oregon a few weeks ago for one of her business audits. I have previously posted in this blog about some of our Great NW exploits (ticking off multiple hipsters in the process after besmirching the character of the Portland/Vancouver region … oh, well …) but never really finished the discussion. On June 3rd, the Saturday after Sheila finished her audit, we were exploring some of the absolutely beautiful areas east of Portland and while in Hood River, Oregon, I asked Sheila to marry me and she said yes!

We have been talking about getting married recently, since it was clear to both of us that our now nearly 1 year old relationship had blossomed into a true love for each other, but hadn’t actually made any real decisions. While strolling in Hood River we visited a jewelry shop (Hood River Jewelers, beautiful unique custom jewelry) and Sheila fell in love with a ring. It was my intention to buy that ring discretely, have it shipped here to Georgia, and then ask Sheila to marry me on July 3rd, 1 year to the day we met. But we also visited another jewelry shop and Sheila also loved a ring she saw in there!

Remember, it’s me were talking about here … 
My usual state of confusion look
I was now completely perplexed. Two rings? I figured I would talk to Laura when we got home, send her pics of the two rings and ask her which one I should get. (yes, yes … I understand the folly of taking that approach; never ask one woman to choose jewelry for another woman, even if they are your life love and your daughter) Fortunately, while we were walking after visiting store #2, Sheila said “You know, either of those two rings would be a nice engagement ring”.

Although not exactly the romantic scene I had pictured in my head, while standing in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of Hood River OR, holding hands and looking at each other, I formally asked Sheila to marry me and she said “Yes”! Passers-by must have looked at us and thought, “Look at those old people kissing in the middle of the street! What’s wrong with them?” But there were also many people who looked at us and smiled, as if they knew we had just changed our lives for the better.
We visited both jewelers again and Sheila decided on the Hood River Jewelers ring. To memorialize our day, we had a younger teen boy and his mother take our picture, letting them know why we asked for help with the pic and accepting their congratulations proudly.
The day Sheila lost her mind
  We have since decided to get married in Destin Florida this coming September. Destin has been a family vacation spot for Sheila for many years, renting a unit right on Miramar Beach with some of the cleanest, most beautiful sand and water I have ever seen. The sunrises/sunsets are extraordinary, and we’ve chosen to be married on the beach at sunset with a small ceremony and just family in attendance. It will be simple and easy, but at the same time very meaningful to both Sheila and I after an intense past two years as our lives were turned upside down.
 I am thrilled that this beautiful soul has agreed to marry me and we both are totally grateful for the blessings we have received in meeting each other. And, now that I have a chance to reflect on it, the proposal was actually pretty darn romantic!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

About This "Retirement" Thing

Have you noticed how frequently the symbolism of two lone chairs is used to depict an aging couple? Usually for retirement, occasionally for "active adult living", even for old-people-intimacy concerns (although that is usually two old people sitting in two bathtubs that are side-by-side in a field, for some reason) (if you're going to be intimate, wouldn't you both be in the same tub?) (and why are the tubs in a field of wheat???)

"What in the world are you doing?" "Aren’t you too young to be retired?" "Won’t you run out of money?" "What happens if you live to be 95 years old?" "Don’t you get tired of doing nothing?"

These queries, and oh so many others like them, come flying at me at the oddest times. I’m not sure why they get asked, but they do. I’m also not sure what the motivation is behind the questions … Curiosity? Jealousy? Anger? Concern? Maybe all of these things?
I’m rapidly approaching 66 years old, just a few short weeks away. If I’ve learned only one thing over the past weird year, it’s this: Life really, truly is very short and things can change in the blink of an eye. A lot of that “I’ll do it when I get the time” stuff on your bucket-or-whatever list stands a good chance of dry rotting if your life path gets derailed. I know many people understand this, because they have seen their life go wonky on them. I know I certainly fully understand this fact, having experienced it when my son committed suicide at the age of 30 and when my wife of nearly 35 years finally couldn’t fight the cancer any longer.

I have also seen it, indirectly, through Sheila, my significant other (for those who don’t follow my blog postings), whose son also suddenly passed at a far too young age and whose husband died just a few weeks after my wife. Sheila had life plans, too, that were stopped dead in their tracks. I have a few years on Sheila, but just a few. Among the many commonalities we have is this complete understanding that time can run out on you very fast, and neither one of us wants to see that happen.

Being really truthful, retirement has some challenges. Speaking only for me, the stresses of a fairly intense day gig are gone, but so are many of the achievements realized, along with the satisfaction of knowing you “did good”. While the stress is less, so is the feeling of reward for a completed project. Perhaps this would not be significant to many, but it is to me. I have worked just about my whole life, since the time I was 12 years old, so to find myself suddenly “free” every day is a bit odd.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be in the position I’m in. No commute, especially in this nightmare Greater ATL traffic. No sleepless nights worrying about the status of a job, or contract, or report. No arguing, no fighting, no more cussing, no more ulcer pain … there is a lot to be said for being retired.

No more paycheck. That took some adjustment, since I’m being forthright here. I’m beyond blessed to be in a financial position where I don’t NEED to work, since years of cautious planning, a steady dependable job, sensible living and very good luck resulted in savings being possible. But, when you are used to a steady injection of funds hitting your bank account, and that injection disappears and withdrawal takes place instead, it does give you pause.

I will begin to receive Social Security benefits within the next month, and while it won’t replace the previous income, it likely will feel a little bit more natural to see a deposit instead of all transfers/withdrawals. And as the music starts to stabilize somewhat, income will be realized from that as well. So, don’t cry for me, I’ll be fine. Just be aware, for those about to embark on this retirement path, it will likely take you a moment or two to get your head wrapped around the “no job” thing.

As stated above, Sheila is just a few years behind me, so she is watching to see if the top of my head explodes as I settle into this situation. We have had many talks about the future, with both of us anxious to spend the maximum time possible together, and what we will do with that time. Travel? (somewhat, we hope).  Create? (we already do this, perhaps we can venture further into our talents).  Enjoy the arts? (we sort of do this already).  Sleep? (nah, we both get up at the crack of dark).  But whatever we do, we want to do it together for as long as we possibly can.

Like me, Sheila has been fortunate, as well, with sensible living, hard work and good luck giving a cushion for her retirement. I suspect she, too, will feel the “uh oh, no more paycheck” thing when it comes around, but I’m not worried about her ability to rationalize that, at all. She’s very bright and generally level headed (just don’t ask her where her keys or sunglasses are), I’m positive she’ll adapt nicely.

Sheila insists that I get some kind of perverse pleasure in having my sig other go off to work each day, though. But nothing could be further from the truth … seriously. I look forward to the day when we can be “retired” together and do the things we feel like doing. I hope we live to be very old, together.

For those contemplating retirement, or those who think it can’t be done, have the faith. If I can do it, and be successful at it, so can you. Take a moment to clear the noise from your head and hopefully you’ll see that there is a path to enjoying life in our senior years …

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