Thursday, October 18, 2018

Gray Area

            We are living in a gray area. And no, I don’t just mean the area surrounding my skull.

            For the last several weeks we have been between homes. We have been sleeping at the condo, but there has been a gradual shift as we have carted boxes to the new house – clothes, kitchen gear (there’s lots!), books (ditto), crap from the drawer that has served as my desk. At some point, I figured, our center of gravity would shift north in, but it has not yet happened.

            All of this makes me ponder: What is it which, other than Kim, once moved, makes the new place our home? The candidates:

·     Coffee maker? We have one in each place, but we moved the grinder north.
·     Computer? Mine is a laptop. Cable in both places.
·     Electric toothbrush? I have manual backups (free from my dentist).
·     Checkbook? Who writes checks anymore?
·     Pills? Unfortunately, a viable candidate . . ..

            On Saturday we decided to sleep over at our new house. Was this an act of commitment, moving us out of the gray area? Not exactly. After a day of unpacking, we were simply too tired for the hour’s drive back to the condo in Traverse City, so after a dinner, an anthology of leftovers and wine, we collapsed into bed. It was a good way to celebrate Kim’s birthday.

            I drove back to the condo on Sunday for a realtor showing, and I hauled the stash of pills back to our new home. I also brought some expensive whiskey from a local source, Mammoth Distillery, in order to toast our new digs. But not so fast – we still don’t have an Occupancy Permit (the house is not done!), so whenever we spend the night, we feel like outlaws.

            Unpacking is proving to be a challenge, and not simply because of the quantity of boxes, which we calculate to be well over 500. The problem is that Kim and I have different theories of unpacking. My approach is the same one I use on the top of my desk: Get everything I might need out in the open where I can see it. (This is the Compost Theory of Desking – stuff on the bottom is absorbed into the biome, where I don’t have to deal with it.) So I unpack a box and then leave the much of the stuff lying around while I collapse the box (a verysatisfying experience!) and go on to the next box. Kim has a peculiar idea that when you unpack a box, you put the stuff away where it belongs. (Recently, she confesses, she has gotten into the thrill of box-collapsing, but her real motivation still has to do with the creation of order and beauty, not destruction.)

            One result of the different approaches, other than some harsh words, is that Kim has to think up things for me to do in order to direct my energies away from unpacking. So far this has included mounting the outdoor thermometer and placing boxes of Christmas ornaments on some shelves in the basement. I have also loaded up my sock drawer (currently over 40 pair, including abundant white socks that Kim says are good for dusting) and organized my colored t-shirts, attempting to pair them up with the outer shirts that they “go with” – a task that will no doubt be re-done in the future. I put all my extension cords into a separate box, apart from all the puzzling cables associated with former televisions. Yes, I do almost all of the box hauling and driving, but that’s usually done by mid-morning. I also have my books to deal with – far too many. I set myself a limit of one bookcase, consigning those that don’t fit to a recently emptied cardboard box destined for a future garage sale or, more likely, a donation to the library.

            Packing and unpacking have revealed some surprises. On my side, other than the quantity of white socks, a dozen of which went straight to trash, I have also counted over 40 colored t-shirts and some 400 band-aids, a symptom of a mental illness I don’t want to contemplate too closely. I also found a box containing six (6) land line phones, a fact that brought great amusement to the grandkids when I told them via Skye.

            Did I mention that Saturday was Kim’s birthday? Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion:

Every Day

is your birth-
day. You unwrap
each morning’s gift,
thank the party guests,
taste the cake, and
choose not to blow
out any candles
just yet.
               Not just
yet. So every birth-
day is a gift to me.


Thursday, October 11, 2018


       I know a lot of you have moved, so you know how much fun it can be. Well, Kim and I are having that kind of fun now, putting in 13-hour days carrying boxes, unwrapping boxes, moving furniture, and waiting for our builder to show up to finish the house so we can move in. No, we have not yet moved in - not until we at least have functioning bathrooms and the kitchen sink doesn't leak.

       If you do think back to how enjoyable moving has been for you in the past, try imagining it when you are in your mid-70s. We rarely pause for lunch, and a few days back we didn't get home until 9:00 and, too tired to prepare food or even eat, we dined on half an English muffin - having moved most of our food to the house, foolishly thinking our builder would finish when he said he would.

       Below are some snapshots of our dream home. Kim wanted folks to know that I took these pictures, not her.

Living Room

Television Room / Study

Kim's Art Room

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Sudden Changes

            I don’t know much about coaching football, but I do know, from what the tv announcers tell me, is that the ability to deal with sudden changes, is crucial to a team’s success. By “sudden changes” they mean things like blocked punts or pass interceptions – usually it’s bad stuff.

            Well, our week of moving brought some sudden changes. Our mover was scheduled for Wednesday, but due to a conflict on his end, he postponed to Sunday. But on Saturday night, he called again to say it would have to be Monday. No problem. This gives us more time to clean the house after our builder cleaned, and then the cleaning service cleaned and then came back to clean again. No, we are not being fussy about cleaning – even I could see the dirty floors and shelves.

            But wait! There’s more! (as the late night tv ads say). On Saturday morning our renter’s family called to say the 87-year-old woman who was to live here had a major stroke and would not be moving in. Difficult to be upset, as their issue is so much more serious than ours. So we’ll put the house back on the market, which means the condo has to be ready to show to a prospective buyer soon, not ready for someone to move into a furnished home on November 1. What to do with all those boxes? This is not exactly a blocked punt, but it’s certainly a sudden change. We are moving some of the stuff we moved from the condo to the house back to the condo, and we will again need to make our condo ready to show.

            My brother Bob, writing about start-ups in How the Best Startups Make It Happen, mentions the importance of agility, the ability to adjust and move quickly. Kim and I, in our mid-70s, are not exactly a start-up. People our age are usually involved in slow-downs, not start-ups. But we are enjoying our senior agility. A circumstance changes, and we, usually Kim, find a way to adjust and make it all work out for the best.

            Meanwhile, we are doing a lot of running around – carrying boxes, cleaning up messes, disposing of collapsed boxes, looking after landscaping (Kim had to replant much of what our landscaper planted), in addition to leading our regular lives (preparing meals, paying bills, etc.) 

            But wait! There’s more! The mover postponed again – now scheduled for Thursday (tomorrow), but he has not called to confirm. And the cooktop does not fit our counters, the vent does not meet code, and we do not have a Certificate of Occupancy. Gale force winds expected tonight!

            I’ve been too busy to get the now overdue oil change for my car, and as we drive around my car is sending me a very important warning: “Maintenance Required.” With that in mind, Kim and I are looking into massage, vowing to sleep better, pausing for deep breathing, eating mindfully, and reminding each other how much we have to be grateful for – including each other.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

On the Move

            Fall sometimes comes suddenly in Northern Michigan. Two days ago, temperatures were in the low 80s. Tonight there are frost warnings. Gusty winds accompany the transition, adding to the drama. Change is refreshing.

            At the same time, we are beginning the process of moving. (I just deleted a paragraph of bellyaching about delays and mistakes in our construction – who wants to hear about it?) We should be living in our house on Torch Lake by the end of next week. In the coming week (I’m writing this on Saturday the 22nd) the builder will finish a long list of tasks, the plumbers and electricians will finish their work, masons will finish stoning our fireplace, the house will get cleaned (3 times – by the builder, a cleaning service, and us), movers will haul our stuff out of storage, appliances will be delivered and installed, inspections will take place, and we will be awarded a Certificate of Occupancy.

            We are not sure that Occupancy will actually begin next week.

            Our condo in the Asylum was for sale. A couple said they were looking for a place for their 87-year-old mother and her housekeeper, and they wanted to rent, not buy. We said, No, we are not interested in renting. They said they could make it worth our while. They did so. We have until November 1 to be out of here. Our builder believes the date is October 1, which was originally the case. So we will have a month to make the transition, dividing our time between condo and house as our builder works on a long post-occupancy punch list and another builder constructs our garage.

            I’ve written about moving before. Kim and I have moved nine times, and this will be our fourth in the last three years. Think boxes and learning new domestic patterns. (I’ve written about this before. This happens when you get old: you repeat stories.) An added bonus: We have had most of our stuff in storage for more than two years, so it will be like Christmas Morning when we finally open some of those boxes and see what we have. This may be another benefit of getting old – the thrill of finding stuff you forgot you had. And we have a lot of stuff – two housefuls merging into one. We anticipate a massive garage sale (once we get a garage) plus a brisk eBay business if I can remember anything I learned from the class I took on eBay. Change can be refreshing and exhausting at the same time.

            So we are looking forward to another energizing transition. We are also looking forward to the end of the transition. Kim has had this image in her mind from the start: We are sitting on our three-season porch in the winter, wine or coffee in hand, our Jotul stove providing the heat, and it starts to snow. Deer step out of the woods, or perhaps a fox. Kim reaches for her camera . . ..

Thursday, September 20, 2018


            I know a little bit about pain. For about ten years I suffered from cluster headaches, also known as “suicide headaches.” About every three months I would have a month with two or three per day, each one lasting about an hour. Eventually I learned from a nurse that breathing pure oxygen would stop them, so I got a prescription for a regulator and oxygen, and it worked. Eventually, they stopped paying their visits. “One of the benefits,” my doc said, “of getting older.” For more on cluster headaches, JFGI.

            I mention this not to attract sympathy – I am grateful for the oxygen and the eventual disappearance. No, I am interested in other people’s pain – how to understand it. The issue occurs to me because for the last month Kim has been experiencing a lot of pain in her back, hips, butt, and legs. It keeps her from sleeping. If it were anyone but Kim it would limit her activity, but she is still out there pulling weeds, moving rocks (“only small ones!”) and planting flowers and bushes. I still do the heavy lifting, and she will stop if I speak to her sternly. Her son, Scott, got angry and yelled at her, and her daughter, Genne’, a physical therapist, explained the potential permanent damage that might occur, but they aren’t around on a daily basis. Kim is constitutionally unable to stop working if I am working where she can see me.

            How bad is her pain? The docs and nurses use a 10-point scale. Kim usually scores at around 6, largely due to fibromyalgia and some arthritis, but lately she’s been at 8 or 9 – high enough to drive her to her oncologist to get a painkiller prescription. She wanted enough to get her through our move to the cottage, a process that will begin in a week or two depending on whether Godot Construction gets our home finished. We figure that the process will take about a month, if you include time spent moving furniture around and getting everything in place.

            How does Kim’s pain compare with my cluster headaches? If we both gave them the same numerical rating, does that make them “the same”? Would using colors be a better way to describe the quality of pain? Some pain is red, some yellow (my hockey puck cuts), some purple (cluster headaches). Or maybe as music – some heavy metal, some the Bee Gees, some Beethoven’s Ninth (but not in a good way). I remember when my brother John was having his mental illness diagnosed after he was arrested. They had to put a label on him, ending up with schizo-affective disorder. That’s like looking at a cloud and asking if its shape is a square, triangle, or rhombus. Everyone’s pain is qualitatively different. A common high bar for pain is childbirth, an experience with which I am unsurprisingly unqualified to speak. Kim mentioned the pain of extensive burns, which she sees as a 10, but more research needs to be done – research that I don’t want any part of. We just can’t know what a pain sufferer is feeling.

            I am currently pain free, but I know from my experiences with the common cold that if I experienced pain anything like Kim’s, I would make sure I was heavily drugged, without Kim’s hesitations about addiction and her reluctance to be too groggy to landscape our hillside and butterfly garden. And when we move in, who thinks she will trust me to put all the kitchen-ware, her art gear and photo equipment where it belongs? I predict that she will pop a pill to help her sleep and tough it out the rest of the time.

            Her stoicism makes it hard for me – or anyone else – to know how much pain she is suffering. I still sit back, most days, and let her cook dinner after a day of landscaping – though I usually offer to do the dishes all by myself. Maybe she should wear a flag with a number on it, or perhaps a color. But she doesn’t like to talk about her pain. Another thing we don’t talk about: The nurse-practitioner who prescribed pain pills suggested the pain might be a sign of her cancer’s spreading. We push that thought aside by keeping busy. Next set of scans will be in a couple of months.

            Another dimension of pain is that experienced by the loving witness. No, it’s nothing like the pain itself, but still . . .. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong, and you should do something about it, or maybe stop doing something. Hard to do or stop doing when it’s your beloved’s pain, and you feel helpless. Get a back pillow? Give a shoulder massage? Hold her hand when she has to step up or down? Remind her to take a pain pill? Help her walk to the couch when back spasms make her kitchen work impossible? Put on her shoe or sock when she can’t? Grab that rock before she can pick it up? It may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s not adequate, not at all . . ..

            “What I do with my pain,” Kim says, “is focus my attention on what I enjoy – photography and just being outside, building this house despite the frustrations, and taking care of my husband.” Sometimes, however, the pain becomes too much. Today, however, we are turning in measurements for our shower door that someone failed to order, buying paintable switch-plate covers, getting a table out of storage to see if it fits in the bathroom, and driving to Charlevoix for lunch, a haircut, and some relaxation. She reports that she is having a good day, pain-wise.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Can you write a novel consisting entirely of questions?
Does The Interrogative Mood, a novel(?) by Padgett Powell where every sentence is a question, really work?
Why did I never meet the author, who lives in Gainesville?
Why did I never meet a lot of semi-famous people?
Where is my copy of the book?


Why not compile my own list of questions?
What do I write next?
What do I do next?
Does it matter what I write or do next?
If it matters, to whom does it matter?

Is time travel possible?
Can we achieve time travel through the use of our own mind, perhaps aided by reading?
If there is no up or down in space without gravity’s orienting force, is there similarly no past or future?
Is the present moment an illusion, a dimensionless boundary between past and present?
If it’s an illusion, then how can I live in the present?

Is astral travel possible?
If you have an out-of-body experience, what is having that experience?
Would you prefer to have an intense out-of-body experience, or an intense in-body experience?
How can you tell your astral travel from a hole in the ground?
Were the hippies on to something?

How healthy will Kim be in a year?
What is her cancer doing?
How healthy will I be?
If either one of us has a serious health decline, what will it be like to live that way?
Is it a mistake to move to our cottage, 40 miles from doctor and hospital?

Who wrote the book of love?
Why do fools fall in love?
How many different kinds of love are there?
What do all kinds of love have in common?
What is the most cynical definition of love that you know?

How can we remain young?
Why is it important to be young?
Was I happier when I was in my 20s than I am now?
Is relative happiness the best way to measure how well I am doing?
Am I happier when I’m not asking a lot of questions?

What happens to me after I die?
Do I have an immortal soul?
Am I the only person who has one?
What happens to other people after I die?
To be, or not to be?

What will tomorrow’s weather be?
Why do I feel this is important enough to check?
What is concern about weather distracting me from?
How did President Trump get that way?
What can we do about it?

What, exactly, is a question?
When does a string of words become a question?
Does any question have a satisfactory answer?
Are you certain?
Isn’t certainty, like satisfaction, a feeling rather than something having to do with truth?
Why doesn’t English signal a question with an upside-down question mark, like Spanish?

If you have any questions, or answers to mine, would you send them to me at or

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Old Fart

            When Kim and I were first dating, for some reason she suggested that I should marry a younger woman, not her. I told her that I did not want to be the old fart in a relationship. “I’ve got news for you,” she said. “You are the old fart in a relationship.”

            Remembering that got me to thinking: What, exactly, is an old fart?

            Call me biased, but I can’t help but think that the expression applies only to men. (Any disagreement, ladies?) This may be because of the historic connection between men and farting – women being much more discreet about such things.

            Is an old fart necessarily old? Yes, though not necessarily chronologically. But, typically, the behavior associated with old fartism is practiced by old people. How old? As old as me. We are not talking about the inability to use a cell phone or make a left turn in traffic. And it’s not just a matter of slow thinking, a characteristic I prefer to see as being contemplative. It may have to do with an inability to change. I remember when I was doing some writing for Pfizer about changes in their corporate culture, and Mark Jones, the Human Resources guy I was working with, summarized the problem we faced: “I’m all in favor of change, as long as I don’t have to do anything differently.” But these Pfizer guys (mainly) were young and very bright, so this difficulty is clearly not limited to we elderly.

            What about the second word in the term “old fart?” Though farts vary from person to person, circumstance to circumstance, diet to diet, “old fart” suggests stale rather than ripe. And things become stale when they’ve been around too long. And that stinks. Again, this suggests a lack of change. One remedy for farts is a breath of fresh air, which implies a movement of air, which suggests change.

(At this point I am thinking that my parents, if they were alive, would be very proud of how I am using the philosophy I learned in my expensive college education.)

            You may want to sharpen your definition of “old fart” by examining people, yourself included, who you see as old farts. See what characteristics pop up. When I discussed this with Kim, after reassuring me that I’m not at all an old fart, she added, “You do like to tell stories to young people, and sometimes they are busy and don’t want to hear them.” Guilty, as charged! But I can get away with it, I hope, by writing my stories in a blog where I can’t tell if I am boring readers, and if I am, they can click me away and go on with their busy lives. Your busy life. 

            For more clarification, I turned to the Urban Dictionary, a frequent resource, and learned that the term “old fart” refers to a person with “old fashioned values.” I like that. Think of what people this week have been saying about John McCain, using words like “honor,” “respect,” “honesty,” “sacrifice” and “duty.” OK – so it was the third definition, and the others are not so positive, but as a reader I choose what and how to read. With this in mind, I feel a lot better about being mistaken for an old fart.

            But if you conclude, reluctantly, that you are an old fart, what can you do about it? One option is to embrace the role: Go to McDonalds for the senior coffee and sit around with friends complaining about politics, exchanging medical histories, and bragging about grandkids while lamenting kids-these-days. Not that I ever do that, for doing so would involve a change in my routine.

            A better option is to marry, or at least hang out with, someone like Kim. As in, “Let’s set the alarm for 5:30 because we have so much to do tomorrow!” When she says, “I have an idea!” I fasten my seatbelt. Change is good, right?

Comment from Barbara Woodmansee:
Yes.  Without exception, Old Farts are men.  The women in our house do not fart ever, although the men do - frequently.
Our family's Old Fart spends a lot of time Working In The Garage, which is fascinating to me because after YEARS of this activity, I have yet to see any visible change ANYWHERE in our garage.  But I have read that Working In The Garage is good for men and makes them happy...being bitten by mosquitoes, and occasionally ALMOST being bitten by more than one cottonmouth (probably a male who also likes garages), getting filthy fingernails that will never be clean again, and listening to rock music from the 60's.  Happy is good, so I support it.