Adjustments

Sometimes, you need to close the bar. I applaud the states who are doing so, while still hoping for cocktails when I go out to a restaurant for the first time since the start of this pandemic. Adult beverages are part of the fun and they reduce Covid anxiety. We decided on a restaurant that has a large open air deck with a scenic lake across the road. We decided to go at 2:30 in the afternoon to avoid the both lunch and dinner crowds. We chose a day when no rain is expected. Naturally we will wear masks until seated.

These are minimal adjustments.

I thought flower shopping with Al would be better than going alone, a good adjustment, shifting some of the heavy work onto him. I was excited about not having to lift fifty pound bags of dirt. We bought petunias in red, white and blue for the front steps. I popped them into decorative pots, to be properly planted another day, while Al vacuumed the loose flower debris out the car.

Our larger urns, for herbs on the deck, were still full of last years’ dead leaves. The dried lavender still smelled like heaven. I pulled the withered plants out and popped in new lavender. Shortly after that, problems arose. I have a little gardening spade. If Al could just pick up the big bag of dirt and slowly fill the pot that would be great. He, however, was still vacuuming.

Al (I think I mentioned) is meticulous in all he does. But I convinced him to stop vacuuming the car and come over and give me a hand. I knew how I had to do this job alone in years past. Having him help would make everything easier. Eventually he came over and did the heavy work while I fussed with the plants, patting them into place.

What else? he said, eyeing his shop vac with longing. I gave him a list of what we needed to do, including him taking the large filled urns ten steps up to the deck. He looked up from the driveway, where we had unloaded and were planting, dropped the tool in his hand, and said “Call my committee man!”

I laughed. Al was in a union all his working life and he’s used that sentence before. Then he leaned against the garage wall and waited, arms crossed. And he wasn’t laughing. “That’s what I would do if I was at work. You call me away from the job at hand (I assumed he still wanted to vacuum some more) and then you tell me to do this, that and the other thing, and I can only do one job at a time!”

I didn’t remind him that he often watches television and reads his iPad at the same time, I just said “Shhh. The neighbor” as his voice was a bit loud. He settled down and we worked on the second urn together. He got the urns up to the deck, placed not where I would have, but I wasn’t going to press my luck. Retirement, like the pandemic, is an adjustment. For both of us.

Lucky

You may not know this about me, but I’ve been married three times. Once when I was 18, then at 20, then at 30. Third time’s the charm; we’ve been married 35 years. Retirement agrees with Al as you can see by the twinkle in his eyes. He was actually telling me not to take his picture but I had to, because it tells so much about him.

He does dishes. He makes coffee every morning. He cooks, he cleans, and he golfs. Golf may be the most important thing he does for me, as when he leaves the house with his clubs, I write. Working the second novel in my new series “Jane in St Pete Mysteries” and I’m loving it. So happy Al and I have naturally evolved into spending time together but also time apart. We are both of the same mind about that.

Yesterday he cleaned the basement, which is full of stuff, including furniture we thought we wanted from our old house, but then realized didn’t fit here.. He was down there for hours. Now I can gather up my smaller stuff, mostly for donation (books, knick knacks, old clothes, old decor). Our original plan was to get a booth at the Armada Flea Market but the virus has made that not such a good plan. This is better.

We’ve been home from Florida for five weeks and I kept wanting him to vacuum the spider webs and make space, but I didn’t say anything. I knew how busy he was cleaning the deck, bringing up the patio furniture, fixing his car, fixing the ice machine in the fridge, fixing the AC, installing a new humidifier, and a million other little things.

We came home to a fire alarm beeping, even though he changed all the batteries before we left. So there was that. Every day he didn’t golf, he was playing catch up with this house. But yesterday was the day! Never has the sound of a shop vac sounded more dear to my heart.

Oh and did I say he grocery shops? And reads the sale papers. And finds all the deals. When I was a single mom, before I met Al, I had to watch every penny. I kept a running tab in my head and scrutinized prices. It was painful but my boys were young so PBJ, hot dogs and mac and cheese all sounded great to them. After Al and I were married, I vowed to never look at a price in the grocery store again. And I haven’t. I just buy what I want.

The best thing about Al’s retirement is not that he helps me with chores (Although he cleans the bathrooms and polishes the wood floors and will pitch in on anything else I need help with.) or that he keeps the cars running and the appliances too. It’s his financial sense. He’s like my own personal financial consultant. I feel safe.

Also, he’s fun. And funny. Even during a pandemic.

Close To You

Last week I finally came out of the house for something other than groceries. My book group met in our host’s backyard, with chairs social distance, and pizza and salad at a table also away from the chairs. I’ve been in this book group for a long time. At least ten years, probably more. These women have all become good friends of mine.

It was hard not to hug them! But I managed to keep my arms to myself. As for food, I think there was a method to it, but at the time, I just got up and got a plate with another person at the table and helped myself. Thinking about it later, after everyone went up one by one, I decided to stay in my chair the remainder of our time together.

We are a book group who actually reads and discusses the books. And we did some of that, but it was more difficult. More often than not, there were three groups talking to each other. This sometimes happens at other meetings too, before social distancing. I always want to hear both conversations and this time I knew there was no way to hear all three conversations.

It was nice to get out, nice to see friends, but I don’t care for the social distance aspect of it at all. Everyone has their own idea of how careful to be, and nobody knows what anybody else expects, so it’s a little awkward. Tomorrow, there’s a gathering in my community at a shared space we call the flagpole, because brick pavers surround a flag in the middle of a large circle. This area is larger than the gazebo in my backyard, so the planners of this cocktail hour thought it would be better to meet in the bigger space.

The plan sounds okay, but having lived through one much smaller group gathering at a distance, I know I’ll dislike it. They asked that we bring our own chair, our own food, our own drinks. We usually have a communal food table and hardly anybody sits. A cocktail party is for mingling, for catching up with everyone. This is not going to be that. It will be sitting in a chair at a safe social distance from everyone but the people on either side. And no hugging!!!

The Zoom workshop over the weekend had a similar disconnect. The content was fine, but I didn’t feel the energy in the room like I do with real people. It’s difficult to make eye contact with thumbnail pics, people’s mics were all muted so there were no impromptu questions, no give and take. Instead questions ran down the side of the screen, which distracted me a bit. It went okay, but this would not be my preferred mode of teaching.

Al and I have not gone out to dinner yet, but a friend who did go out to a favorite Italian place said it was just as if the pandemic never happened. Yes, it was just 50% capacity, yes, the waiter wore a mask, yes, there were clear Plexiglas shields further dividing the booths, but none of that mattered. It felt to her like things used to be. Before.

Also, still no answer at my hairdresser’s phone despite salons officially opening here in our part of Michigan today. They’re usually closed on Mondays, as are many salons, so I won’t go into a decline about that just yet. The book group were all saying they had booked appointments! Somebody made me laugh when she said she just wasn’t ready to be gray yet. We are all in our 60s and 70s. If not now, when?

I do know that many women dye their hair their entire lives. And leave instructions for the undertaker to touch up their roots, should there be any when they die. But I’m so used to being a silver, that part doesn’t bother me. I just want a hair cut. And I want small businesses to open again and thrive. But most of all I want to be close to people again.

Opening!

Golf is now open and Al has a league twice a week so that’s nice for me as I’ve been working on the Short Story Mystery Workshop I am giving online this coming Saturday. I sometimes write with Al home, but my office has no door to close, and he’ll stop by with random thoughts. So golf gives me time alone to build this workshop. Intrigued? You can register here.

A friend of Al’s stopped by for a minute last week and I refrained from hugging him. With things opening up, I worry I’ll hug my hairdresser when I see her. If I see her. The little shop in town I go to…I hope it has hung on through this. I called but the phone just rang and rang. I’m taking it as a good sign that the phone is not disconnected.

The friend asked me how Al is doing with all the time off. “Bored out of his mind, I bet,” he said. Nope. Not even a little. He’s always up to something. Yesterday he washed the windows while I finished up my notes for the workshop. I think, if you include the door windows, which he cleaned too, it’s something like 14 windows. That kept him busy 🙂 He took all day. They sparkle!

I’ve said this before, but it just keeps sinking in deeper: since Al retired, I have far less time and he has far more time. This works in my favor because we have coffee together every morning–and he makes it. He also helps me keep this house clean and is a magnificent chopper of veggies. He knows all my favorite wines, and the prices, and he reads all the sale papers. When he finds a good wine at a low price, he goes to the store and stocks me up.

Now if only my hair salon was opening (and I could get an appointment) before my onscreen appearance, maybe I’d sparkle like the windows. Not happening until a day or two after the workshop. Although I am going to make an effort with hair and make-up. I have not put on make-up in months. But I will Saturday. It’s my online debut as a mystery writer.

This is the first time I’ve taught a workshop in a few years. The first time I’ve done it online with video. And the first time ever that I’ve taught the mystery short story. I know a lot about it though as I’ve been writing them for a couple of years. Also, I’ve been reading and analyzing how they are put together. Plus, researching what the wise ones say. Putting together a new course is something I love to do.

I’m really glad I didn’t follow that silly idea I had that when Al retired I would stop writing! No need to do that at all as I have the best of both worlds. We see each other more, a lot more, but we also each pursue our own tasks and interests.

Welcoming the Unwelcome

I bought this book shortly after the coronavirus stormed into the United States. Pema is one of my favorite spiritual writers and this is her first book in several years. It was published in October 2019. Before the virus, before one hundred thousand American lives were lost in a few short months, before massive unemployment, before the nationally televised murder of George Lloyd by a police officer, before the peaceful protests that troublemakers turned ugly.

I’m so glad I’ve had it to read, had these words to hold on to, in such dark times. It helps. Just from the title, you’d think “Welcoming the Unwelcome” why would you want to do that? If the unwelcome knocks at your door, or smashes a window to get in, it’s there. The unwelcome is here. It is not only at our door, it’s in our house, it’s standing before us.

In that moment, when the unwelcome stands right in front of us, there is something we can do. We breath it in with a prayer, we take this terrible truth in, hold it in our hearts, ask for it to be transformed and breath out hope, peace, calm. This is the Buddhist practice of tonglen. You do not have to be a Buddhist to use it.

It can be used in any situation, at any moment. Now, after the brutal week we have all had, is a good time to practice this simple way of being wide awake, fully human. It’s like a prayer, but it’s a little more active than a prayer. It’s just you, taking on this terrible time, taking it in, welcoming it, even. Holding it in your heart in the hope that one day all being will be free from suffering.

I finished the book last night and I’ll be starting it over again tonight. It is a book for our times, for people in pain. The last chapter “Mission Impossible” explains that by practicing tonglen, which is really the “longing to help all beings” is something that can “draw us out of ourselves, out and out, until we enter the realm of vast mind and vast heart.”

Vast mind. Vast heart. That sounds better than where I’ve been hanging out this week, watching, over and over, an innocent man be murdered by a cop, while other cops stood around and watched like it was no big deal. Instead of staying there passively watching that endless loop of quietly violent video, we can step outside a little. Instead of seeing the world as brutal and happiness as futile, instead of becoming depressed or anxious, we can, with practice, have hope, become optimistic.

This is the value of meditation and the special form of mediation called tonglen. This is how we welcome the unwelcome. It’s here anyway, we might as well use it to heal our hearts. And when we do this, we plant seeds for a peaceful future.