Monday, January 29, 2018

Sitting on the Porch of the Dock of the Bay

We are dog and house sitting in Orange Beach this winter.  I wasn't sure about this.  Last winter, our first since we retired, we spent January through March in predictably warm weather in a little retro house we own near Fort Myers, Florida.  It's a yearly rental of ours which luckily happened to be available January through March 31.  We had a pool and were on a canal.  The sunsets and sunrises were as brilliant as they are in the Southwest, with wow-like oranges, reds, and yellows.  I went down and stood on our dock every morning with my coffee in hand, just to smile and breathe in the beauty of the beginning of the day.  The days were warm and in the 70s and it was mostly lazy and wonderful.  But, Alabama.  Who winters in Alabama?  And our friends who live in the house we are "sitting" are flying off to the islands in the Grenadines for February and March.  Shouldn't we be catching the plane to the islands, too?

However, we had visited here last fall and I kind of fell in love.  First, our friends are gracious and amazing hosts. Second, we have a 10 year-old crazy lab we cart around with us and since we are dog sitting she gets to come along.  For those logical reasons Alabama for the winter made sense to us.  But, I also really love living on the wide open water.  We did that for 13 years, a few years ago, when we lived on a little island in Maine. I still miss the mesmerizing sunsets and watching the ice flow down river in spring or the sea smoke, that mist that seems like a cloud hovering above the water.  I also lived on an island, in a caboose, during undergraduate school (whole other story!), on Rockaway Beach on Bainbridge Island, WA.  And, growing up in Seattle, I was surrounded by water, seeking the water's edge whenever my mood was dark and confusing.

At this point in our lives, I prefer the peace and quiet of the woods where we now live, and the comforting "hug" of the husband-hand-built post and beam house along with the soul warming wood-burning stove once the temps fall.   However, I do miss the continually morphing moods and feelings that come with unpredictable sunsets, weather changes, moon rises when you live right on the water.  Right now I look out from the porch and see little white caps stirred up by the wind on the water in the bay.  This morning it was flat and calm.

I scoped the weather out for months, prior to making a commitment to come to the coast of Alabama for the winter.  The weather here off-season is neither hot (maybe pushing low 70's but generally in the 60s) nor cold (rarely below freezing but 40 or 50 in the morning is not surprising), and yet it's perfect.  Perfectly quiet because summer people are not here, a summer town in the winter.  Perfectly beautiful because it's like a little nature preserve out our back door, leading to the dock that wanders out, over and into the bay.  Being a contemplative and introverted soul by nature, this kind of place suits me well.  My easy-going husband likes it too.

And, although I love the interior of our winter "home" here in the seacoast town of Orange Beach, with lots of original colorful art, driftwood frames surround vibrant paintings of faces, mermaids and the like, which inspires my creative self, my favorite place is the backyard porch.  Connected to the back of the house, this giant screened-in porch looks out over the bay, with a swinging double bed that you can lazily rock back and forth on, as it hangs suspended from the ceiling.  There's a table and chairs, candles.  It rained yesterday and we all sat out there, rain drops dancing on the rooftop; we were cozy and dry in that sweet and embracing space, on that serene porch looking out over the bay.  More than once throughout the afternoon I hopped onto the swinging bed and lay back on soft piles of blue and pink pillows that you can stack up and fluff as you snuggle in and on the swinging bed, rocking and sleeping and reading.  There are these tiny little fairy lights, miniature blinking lights entwined on one of the chains that anchors the bed to the ceiling.  And as a gentle breeze blows, a huge set of metal chimes (identified as from the company, World Peace - One Backyard at a Time) which hangs out just beyond the porch's screened walls start clinging and ding-donging and binging away.  I feel transported to a Buddhist monastery somewhere in the clouds, as the birds chirp and sing their angelic little melodies.

I imagine swinging, sleeping, reading day after day down here in the South while the snow and ice do their thing in New England, bitter -17 degree cold which I will not miss.  I will miss family and friends.  I will miss my routine, my home, my life in Maine.  But I will not miss the cold.  To be honest, it's a bit of a civil war inside me being gone from family and home for the winter months but the side of me seeking warmer climes has won.

I wish my friends, the homeowners of this beautiful abode, health and good will on the islands where they will winter because we have been where they are going and it is beautiful and warm and salty with ocean air, living right on the beach.  We will take good care of your little canine love, Abby and thank you for allowing us to bring our crazy dog, Livy.

Cue Otis Redding....sitting on the dock of the bay lalalala.

Listen to this!  Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Joyful Softies

We spent about 4 hours last night making one-of-a-kind softies.  Cute, huh?  Each little creation tells something about it's maker....

Addy giving a little love to Ju's softie, Lady

Lady's backside

Lady getting stuffed

Maria's two-faced creation

Maria's little stuffie, side 1 (or 2?)

Addy's stuffie is nearly done

Guto's stuffie; first side

Brisla's pink and blue stuffie; one side happy and one side sad

This is the little stuffie who started it all

We all start somewhere.....

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Third Chapter, Year 1

So, you would think, "Hey, lucky you. You are retired!"  And, that is no doubt so true, absolutely and 100%.  I feel blessed.  I feel grateful.  I feel lucky.  My husband and I are healthy, happy and have enough money to actually stop full-time work in our early 60s.  But I have also experienced a few challenges coming to terms with no longer working full-time.  My good friend, a still hard-working, overworked school administrator, frequently tells me, half joking but sort of seriously, as she listens to my stream of consciousness, sometimes garbled ramblings as I figure this out, "Champagne problems."  And, I would agree with her, wholeheartedly.  I always reflect anew after sitting with her over giant lattes in a cute local cafe or after a long conversation on the phone, I reflect on how lucky I am to be where I am at (not that I didn't work hard to get here!) but nonetheless and to my genuine surprise,  it has been a complex transition.

I am currently re-reading a book that has provided some insight to me during these last 6 months entitled, The Third Chapter - Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot.  I would edit the title, by the way, Passion, Risk, and Adventure Until you Die; what do you stop living at 75?    Last winter as we wintered in Florida, our first retirement winter, I was off and on fairly convinced that I was losing my mind, or at the very least suffering from a brain tumor which caused massive headaches that encompassed my entire head and neck area and felt as though an odd head-shaped device had been custom-made and was randomly tightened throughout the day.  As my husband happily read volumes of books under the porch by the pool or played golf (we all enter retirement with different mindsets!), I spent 1/2 the time managing a mind-numbing headache and/or debating the value of life and thinking about, reading about, and ruminating on the mysteries of illness and death.  To be fair, during the previous Fall 3-month trip around the country, over 9,000 happy and wonderful miles trailing a 21 foot trailer and sharing a truck cab with my husband and yellow lab, I was way too busy navigating and gazing out the window to even think, I am not longer a full-time working person, now what?  Up and down, that's how I would describe my third chapter, first year after retirement.

But, as winter sets in in New England, with a supposed cyclone bomb (ridiculous) forecasted for yesterday, with high winds and snow (big deal, it snowed, we dug out and let's move on) I am once again faced with what to do?  The house is organized better than ever, bills are all up-to-date and filed in the right folders, I have my times for working out and seeing friends/family but there is a lot to the day beyond that.  We do have a lot of work to do on the house, re-finish the floors, get the downstairs studio set up so I can actually do my art down there, paint the upstairs room so I want to write in there and do my morning yoga.  Again, I hear, "Champagne problems."  But it has been a time for me to really look at what I want to do and I now see, although I never would have imagined, why some people take a part-time job.  Ms. Lightfoot would encourage me in these endeavors and even calms my nerves as I waffle, feeling not a little bi-polar swinging between elation at being retired and a bit in a panic over what's next.  I am comforted in what she writes, that during the 3rd act of life, we reconsider our origins, sometimes healing ourselves as we review and even reimagine the entirety of our life reflecting on oh so long ago and then moving forward with that.

The joy, absolutely, of retirement for me is that I no longer feel compelled to listen to anybody I don't want to.  Nor in retirement do I have to do very many things I completely disagree with.   I no longer feel a need to keep anybody happy (well, this is more or less true).  My life and time is pretty much up to me.  And that is amazing and so wonderful, freeing and exhilarating (on the days when I don't have a headache - well hasn't happened since Florida!).  Fortunately my husband and I get along well even joined-at-the-hip as we pretty much are these days.  I let him believe he's the boss and he does the same for me.

So today as I stood in the kitchen and really thought about what I wanted to do with my time,  my time I so value and have gratitude for now and going forward, I remembered again what I have always known.  I love creating art, jewelry, rugs, clothing, painting furniture and floors and walls crazy colors and writing about my life and my thoughts about what I see, know and experience to be true.  I enjoy travel, meeting new people, seeing new ways of being.  I love health and fitness, yoga and weight lifting among my new favorites.  Strong and flexible, not what you imagine in older age and yet that is one of my goals.

And as I considered my interest in writing, in particular, on this chilly afternoon (predicted high of 5 and low of -7 tomorrow) I recalled and then reviewed a couple of blogs I have created and posted in throughout the years, this one,  Joyful Artist and Tilly's Joyful Travels.  And with that, I was inspired to fiddle around with my Christmas present, a really fine digital camera (thank you dear husband) figuring out how to take shots (which aperture, what exposure, which button!) and then upload them to my computer (via cable, wifi, card file) so that I could "insert" them into the blog.  Notice the fuzzy shot of the book up above?  I have a ways to go.  All good thinking things, however, to ward off Alzheimer's, right?

We leave in about 3 weeks, headed south.   My camera and blog are coming along.

Third Chapter, Year Two, let's see what she brings.