Home Not Home

A few days ago I returned to Michigan from Florida. This photo is of my writing room, the place I missed the most. My husband took a six week leave of absence to spend time with me in our Florida home. I called this time our “practice retirement” although he doesn’t like when I say that. I’m not sure what his problem is with my characterization of our time in Florida. He’s a mystery to me, one I was unable to solve in six short weeks.

I have been retired four blissful years. Al was supposed to retire a few years ago, when we bought a sweet little condo in St Pete, but decided not to at the last minute. Thus I spent two winters alone in St Pete, falling more and more in love with it. Al assures me he is ready to retire (for real this time) by the end of the year. One of the things we are trying to figure out as we go forward is where to live. Michigan, where we both grew up and have lived our entire lives? Where our dearest friends and much of our families live? Or Florida, where we love taking walks on the beach? I feel less anxious in Florida. Michigan winters are misery for me, with the bad weather and worse driving conditions.

After six weeks, I know what I want: to live in Florida in a larger place. One with a writing room. Al is not so sure. And that is the heart of our biggest problem as a married couple. We can’t agree on this. The plan I see rolling out so perfectly appears not to suit him. We don’t have easy agreement. This bothers him less than it does me. He seems willing to take every day as it comes. He throws out suggestions that strike terror into my heart, like the one from last night. Why not sell the Florida place and keep our Michigan home?

We’ve been married 34 years but have not spent any significant time together in at least a decade, maybe more. Al has been working every day, including weekends, and I’ve been writing books. We are each happy in our own way. Yet we both yearn for something more. I want to travel more, to see my grandchildren (and their parents!) more. I want to spend lots more time with the man I married. If we could just agree on where to spend this time.

In Florida, I missed working on my novel and he missed having a sense of purpose. He wants to find something rewarding to do with the rest of his life. I understand that, because I derive great satisfaction from writing. Still, I assured Al I was ready to stop writing novels when he retired if our new life, whatever it turns out to be, makes it difficult. I will always write. But maybe not novels. I enjoy handwriting my morning pages with my favorite pen and notebook. I still love blogging after 17 years right here. I did those things in Florida. What I found was it wasn’t enough. In six short weeks, I learned giving up writing novels will not be so easy. I missed writing my book.

One of the methods I employ when writing a novel is to not worry about what happens next. In my first draft, I don’t plot or outline. Every day, when I am in the rhythm of writing, I know what I need to write that day. By the time I’m done for the day, I have an idea of what comes next. This is how I write books; it’s much more difficult to apply this to living a life. There are no rewrites in life. No revisions. No delete key.

Maybe that’s why Al dislikes my idea of “practice retirement” ~ these past six weeks brought up more questions than answers. The future is hard to plan. Maybe it’s like writing a book. You just take it one day at a time and edit as needed.

Long Distance Love

My son and his family are visiting from Seattle. It’s been so lovely to have them here with me, but I miss them fierce when they’re gone. I live about an hour from where I grew up. One of my brothers still lives in Taylor, our hometown, and the other lives in a neighboring town. My mom lives close to them. None of us strayed far from home.

My dad’s an adventurer. He traveled all the time for his job as a construction electrician. He’s seen the country and loves the sun. He’s retired now and lives in Florida. He and mom are still married. I admit it’s strange, but it works for them. They visit back and forth, but as they get older, it has become more difficult for Dad to drive up here for the summer or for Mom to fly down there in winter.

She was just there, as my dad has had a health scare, and needed surgery. She hated every minute of it but she’s his wife and she wanted to take care of him. They love each other, they really do. They just prefer different climates. I want to move to Florida full time as soon as Al retires, so I understand how Dad feels. My only thing is I am not going to move there without my husband. It comes down to this: I love him more than I hate the cold.

This visit my son told me that grad school was just an excuse to go to California. He got the advanced degree, married in Malibu and moved to Seattle for work. There, they started their family and formed a tight bond with several other couples who are married with kids. I see my grandchildren less than I’d like. The plan is to move to Florida and spend extended periods of time visiting Seattle and Traverse City.

And they’re good about visiting us. Especially in Florida. We’re in St Pete, only two hours from Disney World. Florida, for many of us, is “God’s Waiting Room” but for our grandchildren, Disney World is a little bit of heaven, too.

Alone Experiment 2

IMG_4513This year, I lived alone for three months in sunny Florida while my husband toiled in Detroit’s deep freeze. To my surprise, I learned I am not alone, helpless, worthless or incompetent, despite feeling all that for much of the time. When I confessed my doubts about going it alone, my wise friend Karen said “You’ll figure it out.”

She was right.

The reason my confidence was some days at zero turned out to be pretty simple, even though it took awhile for the light to click on. And I’m embarrassed that my helplessness was a learned behavior. I have never been a pampered princess. I’d been on my own plenty before. I’d even been a single mom, where being the adult in the room is a requirement. Most days I got it right.

My loser mentality at age 63 was simple. Over the course of 30+ years of marriage, I gave up making decisions. I’d hated balancing my tiny single mom budget, so my husband took care of money matters while I wrote. I have little mechanical ability, but my husband is a star in the Mr Fix It world, so he did all that stuff too. While I wrote.

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The thing is, today, if I were truly alone, I’d be fine. Yes, I’d do things differently than my husband does them, but nevertheless, I would persist. Yes, it would cost more for repairs and replacements of broken things, but that’s not a problem these days like it was when I was a single mom on pink-collar poverty level wages and my rusted out old car wouldn’t start.

When I married Al, my first thought (after “wow do I love this man”) was that I would never again have to look at the price of any item in the grocery store. I could fill my cart with abandon. What a lavish relief to have that kind of freedom from economic hardship. We weren’t rich, but we didn’t live paycheck to paycheck, either.

But this year, living alone, I found that the single thing I needed to do to feel like a competent and capable adult was to take more responsibility for the jobs I’d gladly handed over to Al all those years ago. I needed to be my own financial manager, I needed to take car of my own car, I needed to make big decisions on my own without second-guessing myself.

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Sound easy? It’s not. Al has a set of life tools that are much shinier than mine. He doesn’t mind showing his knowledge off, or insisting he knows best, either. And while I admire a man who can cook and clean and do his own laundry as well as keep the financial empire afloat, it’s time to do what he’s been asking of me for years: to step up. Learn the map of our financial picture. Make some decisions on my own about what I need and what can be given away as we move into the next time of our life.

Best laid plans go awry. But I have someone to work things out with, someone who knows most of the answers to my barely articulated questions. I am not alone. And if I am really alone for good at some point, I feel confident now I can handle whatever life throws my way. Yes, it’s easier and more satisfying to share life’s burdens and joys. But there’s a certain kind of comfort it knowing all will be well, no matter what.

 

 

My Struggle

I have been trying to read the first in the memoir series called My Struggle by Karl Ove. I gave up after about a hundred pages. Maybe I’ll get back to it but I don’t think so. It’s really a guy’s book; I don’t enjoy reading about teenage male boners. He’s an interesting writer in that he gets so into detail and that part of the reading experience can be lovely. I also felt for him as he was a teen living alone and I too had been a teen living alone. The feeling I grew up with was that my family didn’t want me. They all lived in one house and I had my own little place my dad owned. At the time, I thought it was cool to be so free from authority, but honestly, deep inside I was lonely and could have used some support and guidance. So, I did relate to that part of Karl’s struggle.

Kind of went off on a tangent there. I really do have a struggle of my own I wanted to write about today. Looking at my last post I see I had totally one hundred percent failed to take into account that I would be on the road eating restaurant food for four days in December. I am afraid to weigh myself. I had actually batch cooked some food on my diet plan and meant to bring it in my cooler but Al got me up very early to hit the road ahead of rush hour and I forgot nearly everything.

You can’t eat plant-based whole foods in restaurants. I did my best. Wait. That’s a lie. I caved in by lunch and things just went downhill from there. I had to buy stronger medication as the Lactaid alone wasn’t cutting it. You know, one thing I learned early in life is to love myself and forgive myself. So I have done that. And I have gotten back on the right eating plan. But it took five days, because we don’t keep food in our house in Florida. Bugs like it when people leave for six months. So we had nothing, not even salt and pepper, when we finally got here.

I knew exactly what to shop for our first day here and I started eating my Starch Solutions meals. So that’s half a plate of potatoes, rice, or other whole grains, a quarter plate of veggies, and a quarter plate of fruit. Al eats what I do, plus he’ll grill salmon or chicken. He also will pick up treats for himself like KIND chocolate breakfast bars and Skinny Pop popcorn. He’ll say “Look! It’s vegan!” And it is, but I can’t eat it if I’m trying to lose weight. Or even just not gain.

This part is hard to say but you’ve heard it before. Wine and vodka mess with my body more than anything, but wine has been my go-to de-stressor forever and I’ve grown fond of the occasional martini. I keep reading books about how to be more moderate in my drinking. I don’t think I’m an alcoholic. I just think I let myself have something if I really want it. And having a glass of wine always leads to two. Then I switch to water for the rest of the night. This is why I don’t think I have a serious drinking problem. I don’t drink until I pass out. I can stop after one or two drinks. I actually want to stop.

I might have a little problem, well, I know I do, because I make promises to myself and then I don’t keep them. Be it food or wine or whatever. Then I think, well, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re human. You’re 62 years old. You’re trying to completely change the way you eat. As for alcohol, some days I’d like to just quit drinking. Other days that feels like too harsh of a punishment. And every day I’d like to quit eating outside my diet. I feel so much better eating PBWF. It is the diet my body loves. Now that I’m here and set up for cooking and eating this way, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Most of the time.

The other thing is the kids are coming. My parents are coming today, just to visit. They have their own condo not far away, like literally five minutes. My mom has always been a healthy eater and she doesn’t drink so that’s a plus. I can make us a salad and she’ll be good with that. The kids, on the other hand, are coming to stay. Al and I are in the middle of changing my office into a guest room. Mike and Jessica love sushi and so I know I can serve that, but there are bound to be times when we are eating out as a family. I am overjoyed at the prospect of seeing little Julia (just six months old now) and Owen. And of course Mike and Jessica. My parents will be meeting Julia for the first time.

It’s an exciting and happy time and I am not going to make it all about me and food. My family doesn’t read my blog; they don’t know my struggle. They know I’m always on a diet. They know I don’t eat meat or dairy. They are not food pushers. I’ll be fine with them, happy to see them and spend time with them. It’s just me I’m trying to be fine with right now.

And in keeping with that holiday spirit, we have bought a Christmas tree even though we will be back in Michigan in a week or two. I love Christmas and I knew it would be make me sad not to have at least a tree. It’s so pretty lit up at night, and our community goes all out with the outdoor lights. Last night I wasn’t sure what was shining brighter, that big gorgeous moon or the lights here below. Here’s hoping you are enjoying the lead up to the holidays, too. And if you struggle with food issues like I do, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t be perfect. xo

 

 

A Good Wife

IMG_3750 2Life continues to surprise me in happy ways since I’ve returned from my solo winter in Florida. One of the things that I particularly notice that makes my life easier is my approach to dinner. Before Florida, once a week I spent an hour going through my collection of cookbooks, making out a weekly menu of meals. At the same time, I wrote down any items I needed for each dinner on a page-long shopping list.

This made me feel like a good wife, even though half the time, Al would not be home in time for dinner. He might unexpectedly work late. Or the gym had been very crowded. Perhaps Hall Road was a parking lot due to construction work. Even if Al was home, he’d rarely come to the table when the meal was ready. He was “just finishing” something on the computer or in the garage. Often, I’d be done with my meal before he even sat down. It irritated me. After all, I put work into making a nice dinner. Why was it so difficult for him to sit down to eat with me?

All that changed in Florida. I didn’t consult cookbooks, I didn’t formulate a weekly menu, and sometimes I didn’t even have a list. I just went into the grocery store and bought what was fresh and appealed to me in the moment. I ate when I was hungry and sometimes had Cherrios for dinner. Or I’d add lots of fresh fruit to yogurt and sprinkle nuts on top. I’d have salad with chopped chicken and tomatoes. My tastes, when they’re just about me, are pretty simple.

When I came home to Michigan, I kept meaning to pick up where I’d left off with the menu planning and the overflowing grocery cart, but it didn’t happen. These days I jot quick lists for 2-3 dinners and continue to eat the Florida way when I feel like it. I make the two or three meals a week, but if Al is late or I’m not hungry, cooked food goes into the fridge. Now that he has learned to serve himself while I was in Florida, he’s more than happy to put a plate together and pop it in the microwave. This is embarrassing but, before Florida, I used to make a plate and heat it up for him when he came home late. I’d even bring it to the table and set it before him. It was part of that wacky good wife thing.

Since I’m not eating those dinners every night, there are more leftovers and no need for the chore of daily cooking. Because he had to shop and cook on his own while I was away, not to mention clean house and do laundry, Al has no problem eating my leftovers.¬†What has stayed with me from Florida aside from a more relaxed attitude toward menus and shopping is that my idea of what it means to be a good wife has undergone some serious revision. And that makes me pretty happy.