Tents for Algernon

Dear Diary,

It is exactly 9 months until I must be ready for The Next Big Thing. I have created and birthed two human beings in that amount of time, surely I can do the same with my outdoorsy self?

Indeed.

I took the time last week while my Eagle Scout of a husband and daughter were enraptured by the fourth quarter of the Seattle/Green Bay play-off game to sneak my brand new REI backpack tent into the yard for a trial run assembly.

One of the reasons that I settled on this particular tent was the guarantee that it would take less than 10 minutes to erect, even in the most challenging of weather.

Just sunshine and a nice dry, grassy, level back yard for me, should be easy peasy.

I lovingly laid out all of the contents of the little sack as recommended on the directions to ensure everything was there. Check.

I tossed aside the rain cover and laid out the tent as directed. Check. I thought there would be more to it than there was, but I guess if I got one of those “footprint pads” it would cover the ground a little better . I made a mental note to add that to my list of things to get.

I assembled the poles and laid them out over the tent in a direction that would match the color coded sides. Very smart REI. Check.

I inserted the poles into the matching colored grommets (I didn’t know what a grommet was heretofore, but easy enough to figure out). Check.

The directions then said to hook the tent onto the poles. But I have no hooks. I HAVE NO HOOKS! I only have loops.

WTFarm? I run into the house and get my iPad where I watch on You Tube a young girl put together the exact same tent with associated HOOKS that I don’t have on mine. I check and double check. NO HOOKS! Only loops that no matter how I bend the poles, they don’t fit through.

I notice the tent in the video is different colors than mine and the date is from 2010 and my tent is a 2014. Maybe they did away with the hooks since then. But why would the directions on my tent say to attach HOOKS and not loops?

I’m 30 minutes into it now, 3 times the guaranteed time already and I only have my tent laid out with poles in the grommets.

I watch another video with step by step instructions for my tent and again, it has hooks. I DON”T HAVE HOOKS DAMMIT!

I’m 60 exasperated minutes into it now, the football game is over and I must gather my Eagle Scout of a hubby to come and verify that I do not have hooks, only loops. He knows he is on dangerous ground by the tone of my frustrated voice and reads the instructions, then verifies that what I have laid out on the ground does not have hooks but loops.

Then he carefully backs away.

There, that’s all I needed to know. REI has let me down by packing the wrong tent into the right sack.

I call REI to find out how late they are open (it is a bit of a distance from my house) so I can exchange it and confirm they have another one in stock. With their usual cheerful countenance REI assures me they will be open and more than willing to exchange it for the right item.

Fine then. That does not make me any less frustrated and I feel as though I can spit nails as I make my way back outside to pack up the tent and embark on an unplanned trip out of town.

I roll up the tent with no hooks and put it back in the bag with the stakes and guylines. I pick up the rain cover I had tossed aside and realize IT IS ACTUALLY THE TENT.

I had been trying to erect the rain cover in it’s stead.

Ah geez, how could someone so astute and well respected  for 40 years in the business world have become vacuous? Am I Algernon?

I laid out the actual tent, put the poles into the color coded grommets, and there they are…the hooks that I need to attach to the poles. Kind of idiot proof…so what am I?

Never mind, don’t answer that.

After 90 minutes, I put my tent up in less than 10. As I lay in my newly erected tent with my little non-judgmental canine companion Lucy, I hope REI doesn’t have caller ID and we can just pretend none of that happened.

I still don’t know what guylines are unless they are of the “Thunder Down Under” in Las Vegas variety, but not to worry, I have 9 months to figure it out.

I suspect making human beings will prove easier.

Until next time dearest diary.

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Bucket List Gone Wild

Dear Diary,

As a baby boomer, I remember when we didn’t live in such a risk obsessed society. When there wasn’t printing on a dry cleaning bag that said “this is not a toy” (and yes we used it as a toy….and lived). When I could ride my bike (with the banana seat) without a helmet at top (one) speed trying to beat the ice cream/helms bakery man home to get money from Mom. When we drank water from a hose instead of a bottle. When face time was actually face time. When we used to fall asleep in front of the TV on Sunday nights watching The Wonderful World of Disney (or was it Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?). When hashtag meant it was your turn to take a hit off the bong (I just passed it….for real). Those were the days.

When did it all get so complicated?

The Pacific Coast Highway trip had provided me with countless subtle priceless experiences and awakenings (and one big ghostly experience) which I still have available to relive when I want or need to. But they were mine alone. I needed something that wasn’t just mine if I was going to make my marriage work.

When I got home with my new outlook, I realized I couldn’t remember when the last time my hubby and I had done something just for the fun of it. I don’t mean a vacation or a weekend away or a ride in our boat fun.I mean spur of the moment, caution be damned, catch us if you can fun.

Had we ever?

Even my bucket list was safe.  How could I ever hope to capture the thrill of that “just being alive ’cause it’s fun” feeling I had when I was a kid? I gave up on it, maybe it isn’t possible after we grow up and life gets mean, and hard, and heavy.

I tried not to think about it.

Isn’t it funny when we least expect it, when we aren’t looking for it or thinking about it, life just hands us what we need most? Hands us that freedom, that live in the moment, that pure joy, that breathlessness from being a part of something so big we are just happy to be along for the ride experience?

And this all happened on a whim. A simple letting go of the tether that kept me flying under the radar and I accidently soared. Something I never even dreamed of putting on my bucket list.

That was the moment I climbed onto the back of my hubby’s Harley Davidson motorcycle and went for the ride of my soul.

He’d always owned one, but I never rode it. Ever. I always considered it sort of an unwritten rule that we could never ride together because somebody needed to stay alive to raise the kids.

Kind of like the President and the Vice-President never riding in the same plane together rule.

Then came the day when I saw the Harley Davidson motorcycle sitting in the garage like an adventure waiting to happen while I was putting out the trash. Just like that I had that thought.

Who am I and where did that come from?

When I walked into the house and suggested to my husband that we take a ride on his Harley…I only wish I had taken a photo of the look on his face. It was like he had won the lottery and Pamela Anderson offer him a lap dance all rolled up in one.

I didn’t even own a helmet. What was I thinking? But it was too late to turn back, how could I crush the look he had on his face as he rushed around to get us ready before I could change my mind?

He offered me his safest helmet and I put on my ankle boots ’cause that’s the only thing I had to even slightly protect me from road rash. They were cute anyway.

Of course we can never do anything easy. As he rolled the Night Train Harley out of the garage, he hit the tire of the Jeep and broke off the passenger foot peg that had never before been put down.

Crap.

My pride would not let me tell him that it was not possible to balance the weight of my left leg on a tiny toe hold since I had lost those thigh muscles somewhere around 1995.

So I said a prayer that ended with “let your will be done” to God and climbed on, swung my right leg over a very small piece of seat, and sat down on a cushion that was about half the size of my butt.

If he didn’t say anything about me taking up too much of the seat, I sure wasn’t going to. I’m not crazy.

Then it happened.

He started the engine and it roared to life and it took me with it. How long had it been since I had given everything up for adventure? When I’d given up safety and predictability for whatever was in the stars?

What had I been waiting for?

As we pulled out of the driveway and I held on for dear life…I was transported into a whole new world. A world I never knew existed.

Freedom.

Freedom from worry, freedom from the mundane, freedom from the future or the past. All 5 senses on overload at once.

I had never been so close to God, in a good way. He was telling me….”see, this world was always just yours, I have been waiting for you to notice.”

I held onto my husband with my hands, my long lost leg muscle was holding onto my left foot, and my soul was holding onto pure joy. How long had it been since I gave up control for a leap of faith?

We rode to the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona, but we could have rode to heaven and back for that matter. I didn’t care where we went. I was a little kid again and everything was new and it was all there for me.

My husband had given me a face mask to help keep my face warm, and when people looked at me from their safe little cars they saw a helmet and a face mask. That’s all. I was…ageless, timeless, and BAD ASS!

Steppenwolf…how did I not know how right you were?

We were all born to be wild…eventually.

Next time dear diary…Ricky and Lucy buy a Harley Davidson for two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retirement Year One – A Madwoman’s Playbook

Dear Diary,

Firstly and most importantly when you make it to retirement you need to feel very very blessed.  Wallow in it.

By this time in our lives we have known many people who didn’t, and the fact that we are still standing is a testament to our tenacity, vigilance, strength of body and mind, and by the grace of God.

Let’s move on…’cause that’s what we survivors do.

My retirement came abruptly (due to a health scare) and 4 years earlier than planned, but other than that I see no reason why it would be any different than one who retired on exactly the day they always planned to.

Except I didn’t get a retirement party or a gold watch. I’m still a little mad about that. But I got to go on living. So I’m over it.

Like any other successful Operations Manager in America, I was manic. I didn’t choose the field in which I spent most of the 40 years I worked. I wasn’t that organized when I was 21. Instead, Logistics is where I landed when I blindly launched from my parents’ home and college, to a short and ill-fated marriage, to a desperate single parent in 2 years. Too proud to ask for help.

It’s funny how poverty tends to motivate one to succeed.

For.The.Rest.Of.Your.Life.

Did I say succeed? I meant over-achieve.

Out of the gate as a college dropout in Logistics. I shudder in retrospect.

Logistics = There is no such thing as weekends or holidays. Every delayed shipment is the one that will break or make its retailer. That’s the rules, in a nutshell. Oh wait one more – You must play “Simon Says” with the port of Los Angeles and all points of entry along America’s southern border, and you are not Simon.

As far as management goes, I’m pretty sure it’s the same in any area of expertise.

Middle/Upper Management = You do not have a life. You are available at any time day or night. You are only as good as your last P&L and to a lesser extent, your last employee satisfaction survey. Nobody else can do your job, so taking more than one week of vacation while “out of pocket” (unavailable) is not permitted.

Wait…that last part might be my micro-managing psychosis and not a real pre-requisite. The lines between them got blurry. Don’t judge.

A Blackberry, cellphone, and a laptop were my constant companions. Checking them became an addiction. Like crack. Which is why I called mine a Crackberry.

The meetings, don’t get me started on the meetings.

In addition to the aforementioned, I took on penetrating the glass ceiling. I think I still have shards embedded in my scalp. But I did it.

I ate stress for breakfast. Bring it. But nothing else, because I was dieting. For 40 years. No joke.

For me and my psychosis, over-achieving did not end at work. The time I had off was spent cleaning, laundering, gardening, grocery shopping, regular shopping, over-the-top birthdays, hosting most extended family holidays, parent-teacher conferences and blah, blah, blah. You get the picture right?

In short, I may have fed, pruned, and weeded the roses – but I never stopped to smell them.

Never.

Fast forward 40 years to retirement. Year one.

The playbook reads as follows…

You turn in the company Crackberry and the laptop.

You clean out your office. This is not as easy as it sounds. Your identity is so enmeshed with your work, you have to really concentrate to accurately divide what is yours and what belongs to the company. You hold onto those business cards though, you’re not throwing away you.

Next you pack your things in an unceremonious cardboard box (I don’t care who you are) and load it into your car for the last ride home from work.

And you start the life you have dreamed about for 40 (fill in the blank) years . The life that made you go on at all the times that you were sure you couldn’t go on. The life you saved 20% of your check for.

I am sure there are a plethora of books out there, written by qualified people, that give a blow by blow of what comes next. I did not read them. I’m a rebel like that. I must run with a rebel crew, because no new retiree I know read one. Just sayin’.

Mad Baby BoomerTo be clear, this is the diary of a mad baby boomer, not a mental health professional. Proceed at your own risk.

First order of business is to take a trip. Every new retiree I know has followed this play from the Year One Playbook without exception. A cruise, a road trip, visit out of state family, travel abroad…whatever. You break away without an approved vacation request, a rite of passage if you will. And because you can.

Then you come home and take two weeks to unpack. Why? Because you might want to take off again, or you guessed it…because you can.

A month has gone by. It’s awesome.

Then you go to all of those appointments that you struggled to fit into your schedule (and ultimately had to cancel because of work conflicts). Medical, dental, attorney (for your living trust), tax person/broker/financial planner (just to reassure yourself that you are on track with your financial retirement plan…for the third time). You’re good to go for the rest of your life. As long as the stock market doesn’t crash.

You build a semi-complicated excel spreadsheet to track itemized spending. And to keep your Microsoft Office skills sharp.

2 months go by. It’s friggin’ awesome.

You watch all those documentaries, series, movies, concerts, epic sporting events, etc. that you had TIVO’d but never had time to see. For the first TIME in your life, a bad movie was not a waste of your TIME. That’s new, and also friggin’ awesome. You feel like a TIME thief in a vault of TIME, without the TIME Po-Po around to see you stealing it. Ever. Does it get any better?

3 months have gone by. Beyond awesome.

You take on that project that was always on the back burner. That remodel, DIY, yard, car, hobby etc. That thing that you were always going to do after you retired. You may or may not finish it. That’s the beauty of retirement. You are no longer judged by your last achievement.

Except by your spouse. Ouch.

You start needing to eat meals at the exact same time every day. Where did that come from? Weird.

4 or 5 months go by. Wow. Already? Awesomeness beyond description.

Here is where I began to struggle just a hair. Just a smidge. Maybe I am unique in that my hubby is not retired. My time was entirely my own, whether I liked it or not. I lose sight of the retirement playbook. I have no idea what everyone else is doing. It’s just me doing my thing. Like being distracted by shiny objects.

I used to be responsible for managing 300 people (some indirectly I’ll admit), and a multimillion dollar budget. I multi-tasked up to, but not over, the line where it becomes ineffective. That is a professional multi-tasker peeps.

Now, I am picking off worms from my tomato plants with a tweezer. The little bastards. For hours. Because I have an organic garden and I am not a quitter.

My trusty companion is not the assistant of yore. She is my grand-dog and does not do my bidding. Only because of her lack of opposable thumbs, not because she isn’t enthusiastic. I find myself having conversations with her. I don’t even notice she doesn’t talk back. Out loud. We’re connected like that.

Doesn’t this face scream “You’re taking me with you to this party when you go, right”? Who needs words. Not us.

I didn’t take her to the party. She knew.

I check my phone, somebody texted. It’s not urgent. I’ll answer them later when I’m not so busy.

I open the Excel spreadsheet and realize I am 2 months behind itemizing expenses. Screw it. I add them all up without itemizing and find I am only slightly over budget, that’s ok, I’ll do better this month because this is all still new. I keep the excel spreadsheet because it’s pretty, but I know I’ll never open it again.

Wait, what month is it?

I get annoyed because I didn’t know it’s a holiday and the whole world is off of work and school on a weekday. Very inconvenient.

A friend texts and wants to have lunch. I write it down on the wall calendar (old school style), and set aside the whole day. In fact, I have two things planned in that week and I feel like if anything else comes up I might be a bit over-committed.

I have lunch with the friend and find out we’re doing the same things. Whew. NOT CRAZY, good to know. I’m in line with the playbook. We’re back to the collective You, not just I. I vow to have lunch with friends more often.

You walk daily and feel pretty darn accomplished in that regard. Unless it’s the weekend. Then you rest.

Thoughts come up that are so random that you are afraid you might have Alzheimer’s. A childhood memory that is so vivid you can actually relive it in every detail. A poem that you suspect was always there but only now becomes clear. A familiar imagined vista that now longs to be put on canvas. A word that needs to be written. You ask yourself, who am I?

Then you realize that it is nothing more than an unfettered mind that is finally let loose to run, to play, to create, to remember. The long dormant right-brain coming to life. An unchained prisoner, free for the first time since it was a child.

You talk to God. Because you can finally hear him talk back. Because you’re finally listening.

You walk by your roses and smell them. That legit smell doesn’t come from a hothouse florist or a bottle. The real backyard fully bloomed rose. Almost heaven. Was it there all along?

You go to dinner with your family, and you notice them on their smart phones, crackberry, ipads. Where did you leave yours? Did you even bring it? When was the last time you checked it?

It’s the first thing they do when they get up in the morning and the last thing they do when they go to bed. While in bed.

You feel sad that this is what you were just a short time ago, and that you can’t save them. Or get their attention. Payback is a bear.

That’s ok, you’ll wait for them. You have time.

Wait…what year is it?

NOW you are truly retired my friend.

Until next time dearest diary.

People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not.

Dear Diary,

I decided to start my training this week for The Next Big Thing with a hike up a familiar trail. I was around 5 years old when my intrepid Mother introduced me to Mount Baldy. I’ve hiked it countless times in the last 50 years, although I must admit it’s been about 15 years since the last one.

I guilted my daughter into going with me. Guilted is not only a word in my family, it’s a way of life.

Don’t feel sorry for her, I dish out only a fraction of the steady diet my Grandma and Mother fed me…and I gave THEM grandkids.

From the garage I dug out an old faded purple fanny pack (circa 1992, which I still think is only 10 years ago) but pass on the hiking boots from about the same year. I make a couple of sandwiches, grab a couple of waters and off we go. I really don’t care about how that fanny pack must look, who will see us anyway?

My first indication that things had drastically changed was when we pulled in the parking lot at the trailhead, it was early morning and already full with what seemed like a thousand cars.

What the heck? Who blabbed about my mountain?

We park about a mile away from the parking lot on the narrow mountain road and proceed to the trailhead where we merrily (I was merry anyway) began our hike.

This trail gains 5,000 ft. in 5 miles. I didn’t really think about if I was ready for that at the time, just buoyed by the memory of how easy it was for me in the past. I will pay dearly for that later (as it turns out, hip bursitis is the gift that keeps on giving).

I begin to notice all of the fancy shmancy equipment everyone is carrying. They all have a tethered hiking pole in each hand (I later ascertain are called trekking poles), pretty cute hiking boots (unlike the sneakers I had on), and day packs (my daughter informs me they are hydration packs) on their backs.

And I with my yoga capris and fanny pack complete with a water bottle tucked in either side of the waistband.

Just call me old school.

An OG day hiker.

Utah hikeI don’t take selfies, so here is the same outfit earlier in the year sans fanny pack and waistline stowed water bottles.

You’re going to have to visualize that hot mess.

About 2 miles into the hike, the female half of a couple coming down a narrow part of the trail screams at the same time she is jumping both up and back at the same time. I think to myself “kind of an over-reaction to a little bee or whatever it is that startled her huh?”

Until she set me straight by shouting “Rattlesnake!”

Terribly clever of her to troubleshoot for us like that.

We were only about 10 ft away from her at the time, so we stopped and slowly crept up to within 5 ft. to where she was pointing.

RattlesnakeThis guy was huge, and black (I’d never heard of a black rattlesnake before) which made it perfectly camouflaged in the shade of this bush, and mad about being stepped on.

Her chivalrous husband was worried about all of us having to pass a mad snake on this narrow trail (this part of the mountainside is steep shale, no way to go around it), so he picked up a large rock and threw it at the rattlesnake, presumably to scare it away.

I don’t know about rattlesnakes in general, but this one was not intimidated by being under attack. The rock just served to make it a higher level of furious. I had no idea a rattle could be shook that fast.

He had been coiled before, but now he meant business. He head was low in the coil (right next to the rattle in the photo above) and was ready to strike at anything that moved.

I picked up a pine bough that didn’t seem long enough but would have to do, and distracted him with it while each of us took turns passing by. He rattled and darted his forked tongue in and out with mad skills all the while.

Us two sets of humans parted ways but agreed to spread the word to unsuspecting hikers. Since we were ascending and they were descending, we could be sure to saturate the hiker population on the trail that day.

My daughter put a colorful flyer she had been handed (ironically about Jesus Saving) in the middle of the trail, under a rock about four feet away from where our very angry reptile friend lay. She’s kinda brilliant that way.

Our hike was now value added for sure.

I warned everyone descending as we ascended about the rattler.

One guy asked me what kind of rattlesnake it was. I wanted to reply “does this 1992 fanny pack scream Bear Grylls to you? How should I know? IT’S A SNAKE WITH A RATTLE KIND OF RATTLESNAKE”, but what came out of my mouth was “I don’t know.”

I do now. I googled it when I got home. It was an Arizona Black Rattlesnake. Doesn’t California have enough rattlers of its own?

I’m not mad about it though.

Reptiles probably don’t honor state lines like they should.

I assume a few other folks could read my lips since they never took their earbuds out or even slowed down to hear what I was trying to tell them. I suspected that my bag-lady hiker ensemble probably lent credibility to me appearing as though I’m talking to myself in their case.

If any of the earbud peeps got bit I would have to say that’s a strong argument for unplugging while out in the wilderness, but in reality there is probably no saving them from themselves.

Another guy said “I’m sorry I don’t have more time because I could use a new belt.”

Well alright Wyatt Earp. It’s the snake’s lucky day you’re pressed for time, otherwise you’d wrangle it would ya? Would you take off your fancy equipment first if you had more time?

People are funny.

Until next time dear diary.