A Disney Birthday

I wasn’t really looking forward to my birthday this year. It’s the birthday before a major milestone, and the dread is starting to set in. Dear Lord, I’m getting old.

In the spirit of the best defense is a good offense, I first thought about throwing myself a party, but decided that was too much work. In the end, I asked my husband to take me to Disneyland for my birthday. We hadn’t been in several years, and even though we live less than hour away, I find it too expensive to justify a visit for no good reason. But a birthday celebration with my husband seemed just what the doctor ordered, and a very youthful thing to do.

Despite my angst, I had a wonderful birthday. My husband went above and beyond. He gave me two mushy cards, bought me flowers, made me a cake AND took me to Disneyland. And, may I just say, a full day at Disneyland is not for wimps. And, may I further say, we put in a FIFTEEN-HOUR DAY at Disneyland.

The alarm went off at 5:30 am. We were in the car by 6:10 on our way to the Original Pancake House in Anaheim. After a breakfast of German pancakes (him) and Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream (me) we were on our way to The Happiest Place on Earth.

Right when we left the restaurant, as we were driving to Disneyland, my son called from Florida to wish me a happy birthday. PERFECT timing!   By the time we parked, took the tram, went through security and lined up at the gate, it was 9:00 opening time.

We had a longstanding tradition in my family, whereby my brothers and I would, upon first entering Disneyland, run (as in full sprint) to the Matterhorn. I decided my husband and I should uphold this ritual, forgetting how old I am and that I just ate a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream. (My son had also reminded me on the phone of an ill-fated and short-lived attempt, in my forties, to join an adult soccer league, when I pulled my hamstring the first day attempting a wind sprint.) My birthday sprint became a jog, then a brisk walk, but we quickly and impressively made it to the Matterhorn in one piece.

I’d also done my advance research and learned of a Disneyland app (that I downloaded on my iPhone before we left home) and a new feature called MaxPass that can be purchased for $10 per person once in the park. I signed us up for MaxPass through the app while standing in line at the Matterhorn, which allowed me to obtain FastPasses for both of us from my phone for the day. Thanks to our first FastPasses, we walked off the Matterhorn and boarded our spaceship at Space Mountain in less than 15 minutes. While in the short line at Space Mountain, I signed us up for Star Tours.

At this point, between the pancakes and waffle, the run to the Matterhorn, and the rides on the Matterhorn, Space Mountain and Star Tours (all in quick succession of about 45 minutes) we both wanted to throw up.  I realized there might actually be a good reason long lines were invented at amusement parks, and decided the FastPasses had the very real potential of killing us if we weren’t careful. So, in the interest of pacing ourselves, we headed over to New Orleans Square and did the more soothing Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Magic Happy Birthday Button!

Before we left Tomorrow Land, my husband scored me a “Happy Birthday” button from a park employee, who even wrote my name on it, and which apparently conferred on me some joyful-spectrum Super Power. The rest of the day, as I walked around Disneyland wearing my button, virtually every Disney worker I encountered cheerily exclaimed “Happy Birthday, Betsy!” On the Jungle Cruise, the guide had the entire boat sing Happy Birthday. At Indiana Jones, the attendant led the crowd in a rousing cheer for me. After a lunch of massive smoked turkey legs (another family tradition) I set off in search of a restroom, and the two Disney crew members I asked directions from both pointed me toward the Women’s Room and then gleefully wished me a Happy Birthday. I met several other people who shared my birthday (most of them under 10). All this attention was wonderful! Why had I never thought to celebrate my birthday at Disneyland before?!

Thanks to MaxPass and my husband’s stamina, we were able to ride every ride we wanted, enjoy a fabulous dinner at the Grand Californian Hotel, watch two parades (including the Main Street Electrical Parade) and stay for the most beautiful fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

During the course of the day, I reflected on my lifetime of visits to Disneyland. I was probably four or five the first time my parents took us to the Magic Kingdom. I still remember, as a kid, being so excited that I couldn’t sleep for several nights before. The first time after “It’s a Small World” opened, when I was a pre-teen, I was so captivated I insisted on riding the ride seven times in a row…and my mother happily rode with me. I went to my high school Grad Night there for an all-night giggle-fest with my boy-crazy girlfriends.  I visited as a small child, as an older child, as a teenager, as a young adult, as a newly married couple, as a mother of a small child, then older child, then teenager, and now as an empty nester. Each outing was special, and so different depending on my current phase of life, but Disneyland is by far the most magical through the eyes of a small child – whether the eyes were my son’s or mine.

At 10:45 pm, we finally headed for the car. I was grateful that, adorned with a Happy Birthday button and treated like a Disney Princess for a day, I recaptured a bit of that old Disney magic, and that my real-life Prince Charming was there to drive me to our castle.

 

Post-Retirement Work: Finding the Right Balance

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged (other than once about the election when I couldn’t help myself). The past few months have been extremely busy and, in hindsight, another period of adjustment. I haven’t felt much like writing, so I decided to simply take a break and not force myself.

After we returned from a busy summer of traveling, I went back to work (sort of) in October. I realized that we don’t have the money or inclination to travel constantly, and, when we’re home for long stretches, I often get bored. Last spring, I devoted substantial time to the non-profit organization that I co-founded, Alive and Well Women, helping to get our business infrastructure up and running. I appreciated being back in a work environment, using my skills, and even collecting a modest paycheck.

Besides an education in the non-profit world, my stint at Alive and Well Women was a good learning experience in other ways, as I discovered:

  1. The limits of how much and when I want to work (about 10-15 hours a week, and only in the afternoons so I can exercise in the morning); and
  2. My ideal arrangement is one where I can easily take off to travel and not be responsible for things while I’m gone (I don’t mind the occasional email or question, but I spent far too much time in my former career thinking about work and checking my old BlackBerry while on vacation); and
  3. If I provide services of more than a few hours a week to an organization, I want to be compensated fairly.

In other words, I want to be mindful about how I spend my time in retirement. I don’t NEED to work, so any part-time employment should be rewarding and enjoyable and not detract from the activities that I love. I certainly don’t want to find myself back on the proverbial work treadmill.

So, also last spring, I began discussions with a friend from church about potentially doing contract work for the organization she runs. Her company provides accounting and human resource support for non-profit organizations, and my background seemed like a good fit. After a couple of conversations, her proposal was ideal – I will simply let her know when I am home and available for work, and, if they have projects for me, I will be paid on an hourly basis. We agreed on compensation that was fair (more than Alive and Well Women could afford but less than I made pre-retirement – which is the price I pay for flexibility).  When I told her my first availability wouldn’t be until October, she didn’t bat an eye!

Fast forward to October, when I showed up for my first day of work. I was fighting an internal battle, part of me excited, part of me worried I might hate working again. Part of me wanted to be as accommodating as possible (since that’s how I was conditioned as a consultant for 25 years) and part of me wanted to set very strict boundaries so as not to disrupt my lifestyle. In the end, I decided to strike a balance. I emphatically announced on my very first day that I preferred working afternoons only, and that, for this initial trial period, I was available through the week before Thanksgiving, and then not again until after the holidays (i.e., January), and that I would not be accessible in the interim. I confess I held my breath for a moment, since being so unbendable in a professional setting is totally foreign to me. To my relief, without skipping a beat, they graciously agreed to my conditions.  In return, I made myself available every afternoon as needed, giving work projects priority over personal matters.workplace-clipart

For this first foray, I decided to set firm limits for several reasons. First, to give myself (and the organization) an easy out at the end of the initial period if it wasn’t working for either of us. Second, I wanted to clearly set expectations that I would not assume on-going responsibility for projects when I’m gone (see #2 in list above). The last thing I want is a full-time job in any shape or form, and I really need to turn off the switch and do other things in between work periods.

Given my unusual situation and extensive list of demands, I was curious how this grand experiment would work out. I was given two projects, one internal and one for a client. I was able to do much of the work from home, but I was project manager for the internal assignment, which required two or three in-person team meetings a week at the office (about a 15-minute drive from home).   This proved to be a nice balance, as my time in the office gave me the opportunity to get to know the staff and enjoy some office camaraderie, while working at home afforded me both flexibility and distraction-free efficiency.focusgroup20

All in all, from my standpoint, this first round was a big success. I learned a lot from work that was challenging and gratifying. Observing the strong, assertive, yet compassionate, leadership style of my friend has been an unexpected treat. The team is very competent, incredibly nice and motivated, and the clients being supported are non-profits and faith-based organizations doing great work in the world. And, of course, the extra money in my bank account has been icing on the cake.

When I left the office on the Friday before Thanksgiving, having handed off my projects before I left, my friend (and new boss) expressed enthusiastic satisfaction with the work I completed and optimism that we could continue to find opportunities to work together. In the two weeks since, they have respected my boundary and nobody has dared contact me (even though it was a running joke in the office that they had my cellphone and weren’t afraid to use it).

Now, the downside of working is that it leaves less time and energy for other things, such as lunch dates with my husband or friends, trip planning, blogging, or doing nothing. I suspect that it will be important, in the future, to schedule non-travel/non-work blocks to give myself down time at home.

I’ve learned that retirement, like the rest of life, is a journey of self-discovery. I am continually striving for the right balance of work and rest, service and enjoyment. I am grateful for partners along the way, from my Alive and Well Women co-founder, who has been ever patient and flexible and supportive as I navigate my way through an uncharted sea of ever-changing priorities, to my friend (and new employer) who has been so accommodating and encouraging.  Most of all, I’m learning, no matter how old I am, to never stop growing!

Texas!

We just finished a three-week road trip, two weeks of it in Texas. Our excuse this time was to visit our son in Corpus Christi for Mother’s Day weekend. And since we’re retired, our thought process went, why not make it a road trip and do a little exploring?

Our rather random itinerary

Our rather random itinerary

We were pedal to the metal to get to Corpus Christ in time, but then took our time meandering home. Even so, it’s a big state, and we only scratched the surface. But, after a full two weeks in the great state of Texas, here’s some of my take-aways:

Everything is big! The state is big, the roads are long, and the steaks are huge. It was important to plan stops carefully as it’s a long way between towns and there’s extended stretches with no cell coverage to check hours and options. One day we visited Fort McKavett State Historic Park, which was 17 miles west of Menard. When we arrived in Menard at 11:30 am, it seemed too early to eat, so we continued to the Fort. When we returned at 2:10 pm, our lunch spot had closed (at 2:00 pm), so we continued to the next town. We reached Ballinger at 3:05 pm and found everything there shut at 3 pm.  It all worked out, though, as that night our appetites matched our massive rib eyes at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene.

The weather can change on a dime. Being accustomed to Southern California, where we never think to check the weather before going out, I was surprised at how often, and quickly, the weather can change in Texas. We had a beautiful Saturday in San Antonio, and decided to drive to Austin on Sunday. About halfway there, we suddenly hit torrential rain. We had the windshield wipers working on high gear, and still couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. We continued our snail’s pace and got there safely. Fortunately, we were going to the LBJ Presidential Library, a perfect rainy-day activity. By the time we finished, it was bright and sunny again.

Texas wildflowers

Texas wildflowers

The wildflowers are spectacular. As we drove through the hill country of western Texas, the countryside was strewn with vivid displays of wildflowers in every shape and color. I especially loved one type of wildflower that had a red center and bright yellow petals. I’m not sure what it is, but it made me very happy.

Texans are friendly. People were very sociable, proud of their towns, and eager to talk to newcomers. My husband has a habit of blurting random things (like “looks like you got your hands full!”) to complete strangers (a habit our son found mortifying as a teenager) and he fit in perfectly. They’d smile and blurt right back, or even blurt first. When we ate at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse, the Texan with the boots and hat at the next table looked over at my steak and asked (loudly) what I was eating and if I wanted to share. I smiled sweetly and said, “Get your own!” which caused the whole group to howl with laughter.

One day we stopped in Beeville, where my husband did his advanced flight training in the late 60’s. The former Navy base is now an eerie ghost town, with the structures and runways still there, but abandoned. As we were leaving, we came across the general manager. When my husband explained our situation, he smiled warmly and offered to give us a personal tour of the old base. The GM, who turned out to be the same age as my husband and grew up in Beeville, was a wonderful host as he drove us around for almost an hour, filling us in on the fascinating post-Navy history of the facility.

Texas made my hair curl. I could gauge the humidity by my hair. The whole time I was in Texas, my hair was abnormally curly. I gave up trying to style it. I’d wash it, brush it out of my face and then let it go wild. Some days, I closely resembled a French poodle. I noticed that the further from the gulf coast we drove, the straighter my hair. If I ever lived in Texas, I’d need to learn and incorporate some humidity-busting tricks into my beauty routine.

They talk funny in Texas. This is one accent I really enjoy. For some reason, stories are funnier with a Texas drawl. And they seem to really enjoy spinning their yarns. In our conversations, there was rarely a quick answer to anything. Instead, there was usually a “great story” that bolstered any normal response, and I didn’t always understand the connection…but the tales were always entertaining. And the word “y’all” is sheer genius.

Thank you, Texas, for a wonderful trip. And y’all take care of my boy, you hear?!

My Second Silent Retreat

Two years ago I posted about my My Weekend with the Monks at my first Silent Retreat. Still recovering from pneumonia, I missed last year’s retreat, and looked forward to returning this year. (Especially after being in Sin City earlier in the week.) I again enlisted my quiet buddy Louise as roommate, and last Friday we were off.

Although the retreat is always brief, there is no agenda, I expect very little and very little is expected of me, I find it astounding how much I am affected. I took my laptop, my Kindle, and several magazines, just in case, but barely touched any of them. Instead, God met me in unexpected, and completely surprising, ways.

My first shock was to find among my fellow participants at the retreat six young military veterans, three men and three women. Our church supports the Veterans Resource Center at Pasadena City College, and these six were given scholarships to attend the retreat. I found their presence puzzling, as they were about the same age as my son, and I could not imagine him attending a silent retreat.  (I didn’t get the courage or feel the need until I was well over 50.) One of the young men told me that one of the other vets attended the silent retreat last year and enjoyed it so much that he talked the rest of them into attending with him this year.

The first night, before we went into our silence, we each offered a word to express our hope for the retreat. My word was “space,” in that my personal work during the Lenten season has been to embrace the new space in my life, including loneliness and solitude.

Meanwhile, I hadn’t considered this when I signed up for the retreat, but Friday was the 14th anniversary of my stepson’s death, and I arrived with a heavy heart. In feeling pangs of sadness for my stepson, I also found myself missing my younger son who is currently out of state busy with his military training.

The beauty and solitude of the High Desert. Looking down on the Monastery from the Cemetery

The beauty and solitude of the High Desert. Looking down on the Monastery from the Cemetery

On Saturday morning, I decided to take a hike up to the cemetery and spend some time in quiet reflection. After making it up the hill, I arrived to find the young vets huddled together on a bench, solemnly looking out over the rows of cross markers. As I found a spot, nearby but a respectful distance away, to sit and contemplate, I increasingly felt a sense of comfort in being with these young people. I wondered about the buddies they no doubt lost during their deployments. Despite their youth, who else would understand what it felt like to suddenly and traumatically lose someone close to them, someone too young? In that respect, I felt I was with kindred spirits, even though not a word was exchanged between us.

A poignant scene at the monk's cemetery - one of the young military veterans resting on the "altar" contemplating the landscape in solitude

A poignant scene at the monk’s cemetery – one of the young military veterans resting on the “altar” contemplating the landscape in solitude

One of the activities for the weekend was the opportunity to paint a wooden birdhouse (they were tied to a theme for the retreat). On Friday, I picked out the one I wanted, and after lunch on Saturday, I headed over to the main room to work on it. When I arrived, I found the three young male vets sitting around the table painting their birdhouses! I briefly thought about setting up at a smaller table so as not to disturb them, but decided to join them. They graciously made a space for me, and I spent the next 90 minutes wordlessly but blissfully painting birdhouses with three strapping young men. I realized that God had lent me three “sons” for the day to soothe my yearning.

Because of the gracious provision of balm for my grief and aching, I was free to more fully explore my interior space during the weekend. I walked and napped and read, and found myself curiously drawn to books I found on Celtic wisdom and Irish poetry. The silence this time around felt like an old friend, welcome and comfortable.

My final love “wink” from God came on Sunday morning, when I headed back up to cemetery. I had previously noticed a grave marker for a monk whose birthday (month and day) was the same as my son’s. When I looked again, I noticed that the date of death (month and day) was the same as my stepson’s.

It was incredible how quickly time sped by over the course of the weekend. I didn’t experience any dramatic burning bush or road to Damascus encounters, but felt powerfully and deeply cared for and restored as I headed home. Once we could talk again, I tried to express my gratitude to the young veterans. I hugged them all and awkwardly explained to one (a former Army tank driver) how he and his friends had been such a comfort, to which he replied, “Thank you, Ma’am. Glad we could help.”

 

Alive and Well in Retirement!

I was recently reminded of a blog post I wrote back in January of 2014, entitled Existentialism, Disenchantment and the Six Phases of Retirement. It was written about five months after I retired. A fellow blogger who explores retirement issues found my post and used me, in a YouTube presentation, as his comic example of someone bumbling through the early adjustment phases of retirement. As I watched the YouTube presentation (slightly discomfited, listening to a complete stranger talk about the antics of “Betsy and her husband” like we were Lucy and Ricky), I was stuck by how much we’ve evolved since then.

I am quite content with my life now. Looking back, I see it really took me about two years to fully adjust to retirement. Five months after my retirement date, when I wrote that post, I was clearly in the Disenchantment Phase (Stage 4). The Honeymoon Phase (Stage 3) had worn off and I was starting to feel some loneliness, boredom, uselessness and disillusionment.

Stage 5, following Disenchantment, is described as the “Reorientation Stage,” where the retiree moves on to build a new identity in retirement. It is described as the “most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Perhaps the most difficult aspects of this stage to manage are the inevitable self-examination questions that must be answered once again, such as ‘Who am I, now?’ ‘What is my purpose at this point?’ and ‘Am I still useful in some capacity?’ New – and satisfying – answers to these questions must be found if the retiree is to feel a sense of closure from his or her working days. But many retires cannot achieve this and never truly escape this stage – make sure you do!” (Mark P. Cussen, “Journey Through the 6 Stages of Retirement”)

I wasn’t always mindful at the time, but in hindsight it’s clear I did go through this reorientation process, often in fits and starts. It forced me to take a hard look at myself and make some deliberate decisions about how I was going to spend the rest of my life. After all, the rest of my life could be another 30+ years! If I were to summarize my acquired bits of wisdom (and I emphasize that these are MY conclusions) they would be:

Throw out the expectations (especially of your partner) – Retirement is a wonderful and terrifying marriage laboratory, where you get one last chance to finally work out those thorny relationship issues so often ignored during the busy dual-career and childrearing years. Especially for my husband and I, polar opposites in many ways. Plus, I realized that I went into retirement with some unrealistic expectations. In my imaginary retirement la-la world, my husband (already retired) and I would be happily spending 24/7 together, having lunch dates and play dates and going to art museums. We would have an abundance of extra time, and we’d joyfully split the housework and tackle all those long-delayed projects around the house, like cleaning out the garage. We’d do all this together, with any relationship issues magically solved by the absence of work pressures.

That rose-colored bubble pretty much burst the first few weeks of retirement. We never spent that much time together, even when we were dating, so it was bone-headed to think we would start now. And my husband doesn’t even like art museums. After about a week of being together in the house, we had nothing interesting to report to each other. Plus, my homebody husband has vastly different ideas on how to spend his time, and was unwilling to give up his established and cherished routines and household chores. As I noticed my frustration and resentment start to build, I had a choice to make. I could either try to change my husband to fit my expectations, or I could respect his differences, let him be him, and focus on what I could do to structure my own life. I ultimately chose the latter, and also found it works far better to ask clearly for what I need than to expect it.

There are of course some things I still wish were different. For example, I really wish my husband would clean out the garage. I wish we entertained more, and we watched less TV (especially sports). But I finally realized there is an excellent chance our garage will never be tidy, that entertaining can be pretty stressful for us, and that watching a good football game together is a great shared activity. I had to look clear-eyed at those areas where reality and expectations collide and make some choices. If there were deal-breakers for me, I had to address them. If they were not, I had to come to peace with them. Just because Mr. and Mrs. McGillicudy down the street, also retired, work puzzles and drink Moscow Mules together every afternoon doesn’t mean we should. This process of letting go of unhelpful expectations and accepting, even embracing, the goodness in my own reality, with a spirit of gratitude, has been very liberating and my path to contentment.

Look no farther than thyself – I don’t mean this in a self-centered or narcissistic way, but I am learning that I am the one responsible for my own happiness.   It is too easy, but not helpful, to look to others or go into blame mode when I am unhappy. As it is difficult, if not possible to do on my own, there is a spiritual component integral to remaining centered and open, in removing blame and extending grace.

Eliminating unhealthy expectations freed me to look pragmatically, even creatively, at myself, my husband (and our life together), and to craft a fulfilling life. If I need more social interaction, I have a wonderful network of friends to call on. When I need more physical exercise, I hang out at the YMCA right down the street. I have a women’s study group and a book club that provide plenty of regular female companionship.

I also gradually came to the conclusion that contributing to my disenchantment was a growing and nagging feeling of uselessness. Although I initially thought I would enjoy doing more around the house, I found I was honestly just as happy letting my husband keep his chores! (And I am, BTW, the envy of my girlfriends.) I found I need more time out of the house. I was someone who worked my entire life and was used to being the breadwinner in our family and a leader in the workplace. I missed the energy and camaraderie of the office, the business travel, and being a part of teams where we solved problems for our clients. I enjoyed all the fun I was having in retirement, but I began to feel that something was missing.

For me, a providential solution was my involvement with a charitable organization. A few months after I retired, I re-connected with a friend who was long interested in starting a non-profit. She enlisted my help and together we launched Alive and Well Women. Today I am the Chair of the Board and last year volunteered to take the lead on grant writing (something I’ve never done before).

My work with Alive and Well Women has proven to be a godsend. It gives me an outlet for using my professional talents, a sense of value and accomplishment, while allowing me to give back to the community. I love the women I work with and I’m learning new skills. We are in the midst of our first capital campaign and I’m finding it a joy to raise funds for a cause I feel passionate about. And since I am a volunteer, I work when I am home but still have the flexibility to travel with my husband.

Find some things to enjoy with your partner – when we are home, my husband and I find the ideal mix of together/independent time typically skews more toward separate schedules. We have breakfast and dinner together, and go for a daily walk around the neighborhood, but the rest of the day is typically individual time (often we are both home, but separately engaged.)

The danger with our natural parallel play tendency is that we can easily become disengaged. So, we deliberately look for activities that we can enjoy together. For us, our favorite joint activity is travel. Something special happens when we are on the road. We find we love being together 24/7, we work as a team, and we create amazing shared memories. These are the moments when I am overcome with gratitude. And as soon as we’re back from one trip, we start thinking about our next, which gives us something to dream about together.

We also try to do a few things each week while we are home. We rarely miss church and brunch on Sunday. We have at least one lunch or dinner out during the week, and we recently started ballroom dancing classes. We’re still more Lucy and Ricky than Fred and Ginger, but we’re having fun with our salsa!

"Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose"

“Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose”

The Routine Stage (Phase 6) of retirement is when “finally, a new daily schedule is created, new marital ground rules for time together versus time alone are established, and a new identity has been at least partially created. Eventually, the new landscape becomes familiar territory, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose.” (Mark P. Cussen)

You know, I think we might be there!

Breaking Up….Is Great to Do!

Last week my husband bought me a new Dell printer, making me ridiculously happy. I had no idea an inanimate object could bring me such joy. I find myself smiling at it, even singing to it, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “So Happy Together”, “You Light up My Life.” The Era of Good Feelings has once again come to my home-den-office.

My devotion to my new Dell is best understood by my dysfunctional, at times abusive, relationship with my ex, an HP. For over two years, since I retired and became wholly dependent on our home office equipment, I was victim to the dark moods and spiteful whims of this evil HP. It wasn’t that it didn’t print – it just didn’t print consistently.   It was always slow as molasses. But at times, it would grow inexplicably temperamental and stop functioning, usually when I was rushed or needed to print something important. Other times, it would print, but the colors would be whacky. Or, it would suddenly stop printing PDFs, or pages from the Web, or any number of other programs it would single out for punishment. Then the next day, all would be operational. It felt like it was playing me for laughs.

My husband has a higher threshold for this type of inconvenience than I do, mainly because he is responsible for fixing things and he didn’t know how to fix this thing. Since the HP did work sometimes, it never qualified as “broken” so he was not in favor of buying a new printer. And, most maddeningly, that little stinker would print just fine for his computer (which sat next to and connected to the HP). So, we resorted to increasingly irritating work-arounds, like me emailing documents to my husband to print from my his computer, turning the printer off and counting for 60 seconds and turning it back on, and (my favorite), smacking it on the side. After days of stomping back and forth between the den and the printer, turning it on and off, on and off, on and off, cussing and yelling at the HP, my husband would calmly say things like, “Hmmm, maybe I need to take it apart and fix it.” And I ‘d say, “Or maybe I need to take it apart and kill it.”.

One day I came home and my husband was doing printer brain surgery. He had hundreds of little parts spread all over the kitchen island. He had my late father’s loops (the magnifying lenses my dad used in his dentistry practice) on his head and an extra bright office light trained on the patient.   The surgery was temporarily successful, and the printer worked like a champ for a few months.

UNTIL, last spring, as I was preparing for my son’s USNA graduation week and planned to produce packets (including schedules, maps, and nametags) for all our guests. After spending countless hours designing, drafting and collecting materials on my computer, I began printing. The HP-from-Hell would print five of something, and then stop. Or one of something else, then stop. Then no more that day. It just refused, flagrant acts of insubordination. The next day, it would print three more of something and nothing of the other. There was one PDF that it never printed correctly. And all this after trying all the work-arounds – the turning on and off and emailing and smacking. I was mostly alone in the house those days and the swear words were gushing from my lips like a Roman fountain. I finally downloaded everything I couldn’t get that damn printer to print on a flash drive, drove down to Kinko’s, and had everything printed in less than 30 minutes.

In the months following the graduation, I felt myself pulling away from the HP. I was no longer willing to work on our relationship. If I encountered any resistance at all from that little nutcase, I took my flash drive and turned to Kinko’s. By the end of summer, HP and I were at an impasse. It basically wasn’t printing anything for me; meanwhile, my relationship with Kinko’s blossomed (and feeling the expense was worth every cent to my sanity).

And then a wondrous thing happened. Not having me to kick around anymore, HP started messing with my husband.   I began hearing a few swear words coming out of his mouth, and noticed that he was increasingly having problems printing. Now things were getting interesting!

In September, we decided to get a new laptop for me, so we’d each have a laptop when we’re traveling, and my husband said something incredible. At least, I thought he said, “Maybe we’ll get you a small printer to go in your office.” I tried not to get too excited, as these initiatives take time to come to fruition in our house.

Then that HP stupidly kept messing with my husband, and he began researching in earnest what might be wrong. What he discovered online was that an “update” pushed out by HP in the last few years basically destroyed some key part of the printer. That did it! Now he was angry! HP had just messed with the wrong guy. (A little slow, but glad he was now feeling my outrage.) He found a part on eBay that some claimed could be a DIY fix to the problem, which he ordered and it came last week, and then my heart sank. Now we might be in for another protracted period of “fixes” to that blasted HP.

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

But, last Friday I came home to a huge empty cardboard shipping box sitting on our living room floor. I went into my den/office and there it was…my new Dell. It was love at first sight.  The reign of HP oppression has ended.

Since then, I’ve been printing to my heart’s content. Color! Two-sided! PDFs! Webpages! That document from graduation that HP never printed! Everything is done quickly, cheerfully and perfectly, with no attitude. I may even be able to print my Christmas letter myself this year. It all just makes me want to sing. I love my new printer.

Move over, Venus and Serena! (Two older ladies are passing on the right)

There’s a new tennis doubles team in town. We’re either the new (or old) Venus and Serena, or a state-of-the-art Lucy and Ethel. Too soon to tell. Last week I started tennis lessons with my friend Patti. But after a 10+ year layoff, it’s clear tennis at age 57 is a whole ‘nother game. And it sure ain’t yoga. One session in, I already have tennis elbow. And until yesterday, every muscle in my body hurt. I even discovered one on the bottom of my foot (I’ve never noticed before) that aches.

It all started a few weeks ago, when Patti called to ask if I would take tennis lessons with her. She was looking for an activity to add to her fitness regimen and decided tennis would be a good choice. She and I were both decent players (and good athletes) when we were younger, so we assumed it would be a fun and (relatively) easy sport to pick up again. We brashly began calling ourselves Serena and Venus, and discussed our future doubles championship career.

To start, we settled on a weekly drop-in hour-long group tennis clinic at the local tennis club with Martin, the dashing Argentine instructor my son had when he was younger. We were told that a maximum of eight people were allowed each session, with usually four or five “chill” women about our age showing up. (As I recalled, Martin attracted mostly women to his classes, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)

Our first day was exhausting. And that was just finding shoes. Patti and I set off around ten last Tuesday morning for DSW and almost immediately found the perfect shoes.   They were cute, super comfy and matching (hers in blue and mine in black). We giddily took photos together and were all set for our purchases when one of us thought to ask whether the shoes, besides looking good, were actually made for tennis. No, our perfect shoes were “cross-trainers” which (1) did not provide the right ankle support (important at our age), and (2) would make marks on the tennis court (possibly getting us thrown out at the club). OK, fine.

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren't made for tennis

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren’t made for tennis

Thus began our grand search for the perfect tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoe. After multiple phone calls, Google searches, two trips to the tennis club and one to Sports Chalet, we each found a comfortable pair of tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoes that were not nearly as adorbs as our DSW shoes.

Our two trips to the club also reminded us of the need for chic tennis clothes (especially knowing the population likely to show up at Martin’s classes). Wanting to look good while not wanting to spend a fortune, we headed to Marshall’s and found some cute, low-cost, little tennis skirts and tops.   We finally stopped for lunch at two.

The day of our first lesson, Thursday at 10 AM, fourteen people showed up. Martin apologized, explaining that it was a freak occurrence and the eight-person maximum would henceforth be strictly enforced. Thank God, I thought, I don’t want to share court time with all these people.

Martin opened with drills. We lined up and returned balls (forehand and backhand) to Martin, who was furiously hitting them at us. We then ran through obstacles on the sidelines and back and forth between opposite sides of the court. I was irrationally ecstatic to be back on the court and I threw myself into the drills with reckless abandon. I hit! I ran! I dove! When I found myself noticeably pooped, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10. Dear Lord, I still had 50 minutes to go. I then said a silent prayer of gratitude for the twelve other people who showed up, giving me longer to rest between shots.

Our first group competition was “Around the World” which involved hitting the ball inbounds and then running as fast as possible to the other side of the court. I actually won that competition, beating an 8-year-old kid in the finals. But that only fueled my delusional self-perception of youthfulness and invincibility.

We ended with some doubles drills, where Patti and I were partners. There was a competitive element (which always spurs me to stupidity) whereby victorious teams were dubbed “queens” or “kings” until knocked off their throne by another team. Fresh off my earlier “Around the World” victory, I took it upon myself to return a shot extremely well hit down the line on my side of the court. My immediate mental calculation had me easily reaching and returning the ball, thereby keeping our royal hopes alive. I lunged for the ball, suddenly realizing my body was not moving in sync with my brain or my calculations, and next thing I knew, my legs buckled and I went down in a heap, the most spectacular wipe-out of the class.   Fortunately, my only injury was to my ego (although I suspect Martin was secretly impressed with my hustle).

The next morning, Patti (who is older than I am, I should add) called to chat about our tennis lesson and what a blast it was. She said she was tired after class, but was not particularly sore. We talked about our lesson next week, and potentially adding some additional practice sessions.

What I didn’t tell Patti was that I was still in bed when she called, and that I could barely move. My right elbow was throbbing, and the thought of playing tennis again made my brain hurt.

Luckily, a few days later, my body has recovered. I returned to Sports Chalet and bought an elbow brace for my arm. And I think I learned a few lessons (other than tennis) last week:

I’m not twenty anymore (or thirty or forty, for that matter). I need to take things a little slower. I don’t need to win all the competitions. Diving for balls and running all out, all the time, is no longer in my best interests. In fact, it’s pretty senseless.

Warm up first. We sat there on the bench waiting for the class before us and then dove right in before warming up. I have thirty sore muscles to prove it.

Watch my form. My dad was my first tennis instructor, and he was a stickler for good form. I’m sure he was turning over in his grave last Thursday watching me make weird awkward shots with no attention to proper form and motion. I’m sure that’s one reason my elbow is already hurting, as sound practice and motion not only enhances my game but puts less stress on my body.

Have fun. In spite of all the follow-up pain, it was a joy getting back on the court. I’m hoping that, with some age-related adjustments to my game (cough, cough), I can continue to play for years to come, (my dad played into his eighties) and that Patti and I will be more Venus and Serena than Lucy and Ethel.