Wallowing in My Bliss

Dear Diary,

I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy conquering a mountain. A mountain you say? Yes. I conquered a mountain.

From the time I was old enough to look out of the window and take note of what was outside, Cucamonga Peak has loomed large over my very small life.

For 57 years, this mountain has given me assurance that some things are unchanging. And when I am gone and come back, Cucamonga Peak means I am home.

This peak and I go so far back that I long ago considered it mine. It may stand tall over millions of Southern Californians, but it’s my compass that Cucamonga Peak  provides a true north for.

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Now imagine my surprise when that flat topped source of a lifetime of comfort began taunting me.

“Beat me. I dare you.”

It’s no secret in this diary that these mountains have done nothing but teach this city girl respect. And terror.

Remember that time I was on an icy ridgeline and narrowly escaped sliding to my death 6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows? Or how about the rattlesnake that was kind enough to teach me what one sounds like when they are mere inches away from my exposed chubby leg People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not?

And all of these occurred before I ever got to set foot on the actual peak of my desire.

Why would a perfectly normal baby boomer who lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal husband (ok, that one might be a stretch) keep self administering the pain and agony associated with hiking?

All I can do is tell you what I tell the women in my Bunco club, “It quiets the voices inside my head .” Then we all have a little laugh.

But the joke is on them. It really does quiet the voices in my head. The manic pace that thoughts race through my brain. The sheer speed and randomness make it impossible for me to grab hold of one and make sense out of it’s origin.

The only thing worse than those manic thoughts are the tired old thoughts that come back over and over again to crush me under their weight. To sneak through a crack in my carefully crafted wall of defense to demoralize me.

Besides, it might be rude if I answered the Bunco ladies question of why I hike with truths. Like; “I just don’t find cleaning my house over and over again fulfilling”, or this one “Having faced my own mortality, I would rather walk while I still can”, or the ever popular “Trapped on a ship with 5,000 other people is much like sitting in traffic 24/7 to me.”

That last one is super snarky I’ll admit. But since I’ve never really said it out loud, it doesn’t count.

Besides, for the life of me, I really don’t know why I wouldn’t rather be sitting in a stateroom waiting to be pampered by food servers rather than punishing myself on the slopes of a mountain that may not even like me.

But I wouldn’t.

So I hike, but I have no illusions about my limitations. I am used to being the slowest one on any given trail. I make myself feel better by remembering that just 3 years ago, I wasn’t able to even make it around my block. But still the mountain taunts. It doesn’t care about me and my little woes.

So last week I pack my 10 essentials and head up the same old worn out trail I have huffed and puffed up many times now. But today would be different. All the right elements (I didn’t even know what they were before they actually occurred) came into alignment like planets to the sun. 1. A couple of women my age played leap frog with me (meaning we had the same skill level) up the Ice House Saddle trail (that leads to 5 different peak trails) with me and were headed up to Cucamonga. 2. I made it up to the aforementioned saddle in new record time (for me), which meant it was still early enough in the day to actually consider making an assault. 3. I could still breathe after 3.4 miles and 3215 ft.

So I texted my husband that I was going to take on Cucamonga (for some freakish reason, I have phone coverage at the saddle) and on I went. The two ladies who shared my skill level were long gone once I finished my protein bar and considered actually taking on the mountain. I was alone.

So it was just me vs. the Cucamonga Peak trail. And it proved to be all that I had read about it. Painfully steep, terrifyingly narrow, with drops so far down I couldn’t see where they ended.

But both the manic and familiar destructive voices were silent. Only my breathing and balance mattered.

I adopted a mantra “if they can do it, I can do it” that kept cadence with my feet. Once in a while, I allowed myself to stop and take in the vista. The wonderment kept me buoyed to have the faith that I would make it.

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Of course, I made all the same mistakes. On the most narrow and terrifying parts of the trail, I froze instead of keeping my pace. But each time I would find the nerve to steady myself and move forward. Without falling. I can’t help but think that God has great influence in saving me from myself.

Being the slowest one up the mountain (except for a couple that quit early on, and thank you for that), has it’s surprising advantages. The view ahead is sometimes good too. But I digress.

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I caught sight of one of my greatest hiking fears (besides bears), forest fire. But it was far enough in the distance to not be a threat.

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Long past the point when both my legs and lungs had given up, I kept going by sheer will power. I could not quit. The damage done to my psyche would be irreparable. I made up my mind that even if I had to spend the night in a hollowed out tree, giving up was not an option.

I had to rest after each 30 or 40 steps on the last mile. The switchbacks went on for miles in that last mile. I felt like after every one of them the summit would be in sight, but just more switchbacks met my expectations. Even the seasoned hikers that seemed to fly by were groaning under the ascent.

After seven hours, the two women who had originally inspired me were on their way down. One said, “I thought we lost you at the saddle”. At this altitude, I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain to understand what that meant. All I could do was smile. It must have been painful to look at because she went on to say, “you are only 50 ft. away from the top.”

So like Dory from Nemo fame, I just kept swimming. And 50 ft. later I came upon the summit that had either comforted me or taunted me every day that I called the Inland Empire home.

But this time, I was the champion.

There were others at the summit so I refrained from actually collapsing. Well I collapsed, but I executed it in slo-mo style so it appeared that I was in control of my knees. I finally found the energy to ask a fellow peak bagger to take a photo of me. Even I wouldn’t believe it without proof. I had ascended 5,407 ft in 6.4 miles (according to my gps). I bagged one of the highest peaks in Southern California.

I win.

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No matter what happens in my life after this, I have only to look out of my window to remind myself what I am capable of. I shall wallow in this bliss for a very long time.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

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View Out of the Side Window

Stuckeys

Dear Diary,

It’s probably no surprise that I am a backseat, a passenger seat, and every other seat, driver. That’s what happens to us folks who have trust issues that turn into control issues and whatever else kind of issues that I am sure are side dishes to those.

I have long been remanded to silence on car trips (in my backseat driving capacity anyway) so my driving instructions, criticisms, and suggestions only occur in my head which leaves not much room for any other kind of thoughts.

On our long trips from California to Arizona and back I know the road so well that there is nothing new to discover, and nothing to distract me from the traffic. We have been in every establishment along the lonesome 40 at some time or another, so it has been relegated from road trip to just the trip home.

In recent years I have taken to reclining in the back seat and giving up control completely to my able bodied hubby to get us where we’re going.

My hobby is looking at the world through the side window which surprisingly is a whole new area of discovery. What I thought was familiar territory is quite different. A Dead Poet Society “aha” if you will. I look at the world anew, and it sometimes reminds me of places I’ve been so long ago that I almost forgot what they looked like, or that I was there at all.

For example, the Cajon Pass out of the side window on a rainy day looks like the cliffs of Hawaii, and for a moment I am transported there. The sights, the smells, the sounds of the tropical paradise of my youth.

The Mohave desert out of the side window reminds me of car trips (how long has it been since people took Sunday “car trips”?) with my mother and grandmother when we would stop at Stuckey’s and get pecan rolls to snack on. For a moment I am transported back in time to the little red Mustang with white upholstery and I can almost hear my Grandmother’s voice again. My little sister asleep by my side, and me dreaming of the day when I would be old enough to sit behind the driver’s seat. Little did I know how lucky I was to not have the responsibilities that come with that age.

The side window is a time portal, and I its willing passenger.

Try it sometime.

Until next time dear diary.

What Makes Something Real?

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Dear Dairy,

You know I don’t normally start my posts with a photo. I feel like photos are there to help illustrate a story.

But not today.

The photo IS the story. It’s the pile of crap I have begun to amass for The Next Big Thing. As the pile gets bigger, so does the feeling that I am a fraud.

So I keep asking myself, is The Next Big Thing real? The answer is always yes.

Unfortunately, I find I am surrounded by skeptics. Oh they don’t say much, except when I bought a ridiculously large knife with all kinds of survival gear tucked into the handle, and my Eagle Scout of a husband scoffed and said I had fallen for a gimmick.

I defended my choice while unloading the fishing hook, matches, compass, and showing him how I would defend myself against a bear. What I got was an impatient and curt reply, “If a bear gets that close to you, you would already be dead”.

I was afraid of that.

And this will be why the dreaded bear canister will be the last thing I buy to complete my backpacking ensemble. Because that means if it is really real, I will have to face my worst fear…bears.

And that’s also why I now know that this 57 year old (just by a couple of weeks mind you) city girl whose only real survival skill is finding parking in LA, will be backpacking the Lost Coast of California alone. The look on the Eagle Scout’s face said it all, he is beyond humoring me on this trip.

This is not new.  But guess what is new…nobody’s skepticism makes this bucket list item less real for me, in fact it hardens my resolve.

But let me tell you why.

This is the first time I have dared ever make a decision for just me. When I wasn’t running away or to something, when I wasn’t traumatized into or out of my comfort zone.

I am doing it because I want to…but somewhere else is the unrelenting desire to do it because I have to. Because I can’t back down. Not to the skeptics, but most of all…not to myself.

Not break the promise that I made to myself every time I was in the Grand Canyon, or Lake Powell, or Kings Canyon or Sequoia National Park or Zion or Bryce, or any other place in nature…that I would be back when I didn’t have to rush home to the cement jungle to be at work Monday morning.

Rush home because I couldn’t ever take off more than a week. It was too grueling trying to get caught back up on emails, meetings, payroll, budgets, deadlines, etc.

But I don’t have those constraints now. For the first time in my life, my time is my own.

So are my decisions.

My decisions for the last 57 years were made with the best interest of my parents, kid(s), husband(s), sister, nieces, and whoever else was most dominant in my life at the time. Unfortunately, the last person on my list of important people to consider was me.

Until now.

So the pile in the room we loosely call the office (loosely because nothing really productive happens there remember) keeps growing.

I have to start my training from ground zero again. The hip injury from my overzealous conquering of the Ice House Trail healed rather quickly, compared to my injury being an excuse to throw myself into the holidays and making it perfect for family and friends.

There I said it. I know what my true weaknesses are

But the holidays are past, and my overdeveloped sense of responsibility to be all things to all people is temporarily sated.

So bring it skeptics…this $&*! is real because I said so.

Until next time dear diary.

Dear In Somnia, It’s not working out between us.

 

Dear In Somnia,

I’ve been in a relationship with you for a long time. I keep trying to break up with you, but you’re still hanging around. I’m pretty mad about it. I don’t mind if you visit once in awhile, but you can’t live here anymore.

I know why baby boomers can’t sleep. It’s not just us, but since that’s the crowd I run with (not run…you know I can’t run even when I think I’m being chased by a wild animal see Pacific Coast Highway Day 5) so I feel like I can speak for a few of us.

I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, what with In Somnia stalking me and all, so I’ll share some obvious reasons and try not to expound on them too much.

1. We are the creamy responsible middle of a multi-generational worry sandwich – Our aging parents are getting increasingly feeble, our children are coping with launching and re-launching their careers in a difficult economic environment, and those of us who are lucky enough to have grandkids (I worry about never getting any from my selfish kids) get to worry about them too. We don’t cognitively go to bed worrying about it, but our subconscious knows, it knows our whole world can be rocked by one little phone call, and probably already has a few times. It knows…it knows.

As a side note on this subject – Christians are taught to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, but I sneak back and pick mine right back up. I guess I don’t think Jesus can handle the job…I hope I find out he has a heck of a sense of humor when I get there.

2. Sensory Overload – We go a hundred miles an hour and before we go to bed (sometimes in bed) we are on the web, email, electronic games, TV, and most of the time these are simultaneous. Our brains need time to decompress not multi-task…but in a well tread world of immediate gratification, we expect our brains to instantaneously turn off and go to sleep like a computer. They don’t work that way, unless we take sleep aids which is my next topic.

3. We are a nation addicted to drugs – I only recently became aware of this in myself. It’s easy to get lulled into a dependence on both over the counter and prescription sleep aids. I got educated on the scientific end of the ramifications by my soon-to-be-RN daughter. I hate it when she does that. I wish I could go back to not knowing how they mess with your body’s natural rhythms. I kicked the addiction but I miss them like any other Tylenol PM or Ambien junkie. Sleep aids are drugs and there is a price to be paid both physically and mentally. I don’t need any more of either of those challenges thank you very much.

4. Money – this one is easy to describe…2009. With our retirements wrapped up in 401k’s and equity (which has still not recovered), need I say more? Now combine this with topic #1. That should do it.

5. Don’t believe what you tell yourself late at night – Some of my best ideas come when my mind finally slows down after going to bed, but if I lay awake long enough the dialogue with myself can take a left turn. A scary paranoid schizophrenic kind of turn.

6. We’re going to hell in a hand basket – That’s what my Grandma used to say and I would smile affectionately at her and say to myself “Awwwwwe, she’s just old”. Now I sometimes think the same thing (not verbatim since I never knew what a hand basket was) when I think too long about overpopulation, pollution, war, etc. I don’t know what scares me more, the issues or the fact that I’m old enough to be my Grandma.

7. Pain – As we get older, things start to hurt. That’s on the physical side. Then there are those horrors that we accumulate over time that can occasionally haunt us. You know that old saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? It’s not true. What doesn’t kill you…just doesn’t kill you.

How can we ever hope to sleep well again?

I don’t know the answer to that, so let me lay awake and think about it for awhile.

Until next time Insomnia (I mean diary).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bucket List Expose’ – An Affair of the Heart

Dear Diary,

The only guideline I gave myself when I started writing to you dear diary was that I had to be honest. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…as I know it.

I hate it when I do that.

I want to tell you so badly about my Pacific Coast Highway triumph, but I cannot do that unless I tell the truth of what motivated me to accomplish the solo trip from LA to Seattle.

It’s a painful truth.

Let me set the stage – April 2013. I had been off of work for 3 months and was still fighting for my life. I had not told anyone of the severity of my illness, that’s not how I was raised.

When things get darkest, I was taught from a young age to go inside. Don’t expose the monsters, don’t ask for help. Silence was rewarded.

My job had just let me go for being sick and in exchange for my silence on the matter and a 5k settlement, I signed an agreement that I would not pursue legal action.

I was too sick to care about legal action. I gladly signed it just to be over the LOA extensions and hostility I perceived every time I let them know I wasn’t getting better.

Still…it was a blow to both my ego and my pocketbook. I had not been without an income since I was 15 years old, which was 40 years. The 5k was only about 7 days worth of salary for me. They got off cheap.

I had never been faced with something I couldn’t overcome. Once I set my mind to achieve something, I don’t let go until it’s done. Being sick was new to me, and as hard as I tried, I could not affect the outcome.

If I’m being honest (and I have to be now that I made that rash promise to you diary), I knew deep down that I had been sick for a few years, but I kept talking myself out of it. I kept telling myself “it must just be from getting older, or it’s just stress, or I’m just tired, or I just need to eat better, or I just need to get more exercise.”

All of that was true to some extent, but the real culprit was the dark passenger ravaging my body. That’s what I call it.

Science calls it “Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement”. Those are fancy words that mean I have disease overlap between Lupus, Scleroderma, and Polymyositis with Rheumatoid Arthritis thrown in for good measure. The autonomic involvement is just a fancy word for saying my esophagus doesn’t work.

You would think I’d be thinner.

I was finally motivated to go to the doctor when I got up from my desk at 10:00 at night (I was the only one left in the building thank God), and the world went dark. I woke up looking at the underbelly of my desk. I’d never seen it from that angle before.

Kind of a Dead Poet Society moment.

I went to a doctor the next day and found that my heart was under attack. The unchecked disorder was damaging my ticker and it was in critical danger. Who knew? No matter how hard you try, you can’t will the heart into getting back in the game if it is marching to the beat of it’s own drummer.

By April 2013, my heart was showing signs of improvement. Not completely out of the woods yet…but at least it was not boldly marching down it’s fatal path.

But this wasn’t the catalyst for the bucket list trip. Not by a long shot.

I was lonely and not a little bored. I had been cut off from the outside world. My friendships were mostly work-related, so I had not had social contact for 4 months. My world had gotten pitifully small and silent.

The day came when I heard my hubby’s phone go off so I picked it up and looked at the text from his best friend Steve. They were discussing the upcoming “guy” weekend they were planning at our house in Arizona.

Mind you, in 20 years of marriage I had not checked his wallet, his phone, his pockets, his car, or anything else. I trusted him completely.

I read the text because I was hungry for some sort of outside contact. Any kind of interaction would do, even if it wasn’t mine.

It was delicious, so I didn’t stop there. I opened his recent texts and there it was. The catalyst. One text of three little words.

 “Wear something sexy.”

And it wasn’t sent to me.

It was to a female friend of his (let’s call her Tran) who he had arranged to meet on his way to work and sell some ammo to.

Well Wyatt Earp, you just shot me. Through.The. Heart.

The heart I was already so desperately trying to mend. The heart that was already at risk. The heart already under attack.

Except this blow was not from a dark passenger, it was from the person closest to me, my partner, my best friend, my mate.

Who is this guy? I felt like I suddenly didn’t know him at all.

I floundered. And true to my roots, I dove deep inside. I revealed nothing.

This was not a new pain. Although it had been many years, betrayal was not new. My mother betrayed us when she didn’t save us from my step-father. My first husband betrayed me with a co-worker when I was pregnant with our child.

So why am I always so surprised?

I had this roiling and seething inside of me for 2 weeks. The anger was building. The anger at being betrayed, the anger at having to deal with this while I was still trying to get back to good with my dark passenger, the anger at having this occur when I am 55 years old and supposed to be enjoying life, the anger at feeling like a fool.

Then came the monsters.

The ones that tell me it must be my fault somehow. The ones that tell me I must be unlovable. The ones that tell me I don’t deserve to be happy. The ones that tell me to pretend like it never happened so I don’t have to deal with the truth.

Not this time monsters. I am older and wiser now. I don’t have the time or energy for a trip down self destruction lane.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time. I’d lost my job, I’d lost my health, I’d even lost my figure thanks to the rapid weight gain from the massive amount of steroids and other medications I’d been taking for the last 4 months. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. And now I’d lost my trust?

I’d lost my way.

It finally all came to a head at…of all places…a Wal Mart.

Let me just say, I have an abhorrence of public scenes. People who air their dirty laundry by arguing loudly in public have a lack of self control or a desperate need for attention in my book.

On this day I had gone with him to Wal Mart and true to his nature, Wyatt Earp insisted upon stopping by the ammo section. The Area Manager told him that they were expecting a large shipment of .22’s if he wanted to wait. There was already a line forming.

He asked if I minded waiting. I didn’t. What else did I have to do?

Then I remembered that .22 shells were what had brought Tran and Wyatt together on his way to work. Did she wear something sexy that night (he works off shifts)? Like a holster maybe?

I walked away, pretending like I was doing other shopping (I hate Wal Mart, so this is out of character for me normally). I could feel the anger doing a slow boil. It was dangerously close to spilling over.

2 hours later Wyatt called me and told me he had the .22’s and was ready to go. I could meet him at the check out lanes. He again thanked me for waiting around. I told him that it was fine as long as he didn’t sell them to someone he had arranged to meet on the way to work and had told to wear something sexy.

There it was. I spilled the beans in Wal Mart, a very public place. They had boiled over and right out of my mouth. Like anger vomit.

The realization of what I’d said visibly went through his mind and onto his face.

He has no problem with public scenes. His family is notorious for them.

He hissed at me, “You invaded my privacy?”

What? That’s what the issue was in his mind? Here comes the cray cray feeling.

I walked out and waited by the car. I wasn’t going to rebut in Wal Mart.

When he got in the car he was mad. HE WAS MAD. I love that.

I finally rebutted, “The only people who need privacy in a relationship are the ones who have something to hide or something to protect. Which is it with you?”

He said, “I don’t have anything to hide. I sent that text to test you to see if you checked my phone.”

“How convenient”, I replied. “Let’s just say I was buying that, which I’m not, but if I were…why would you send the text to Tran? She thinks it’s real.”

He said, “No she doesn’t, she was in on the test.”

He was not helping his case. This put me over the anger edge.

“You brought in a woman, a third person into our relationship to TEST me? Now I really don’t buy it. I’d like to think you are not that stupid.”

“I didn’t really think about it that way. It was an innocent text. It’s not like you caught me going out on you. After all, if I was going to go out on you, do you think I would be with someone like Tran?”

This just keeps getting better.

“Really? Now you’re going to be insulted by WHO you would NOT choose to go out on me with?” I said incredulously.

“The point is this…do you REALLY think that I would ever go out on you?” was his rebuttal.

“No, but I also would not have believed that you would ask someone to wear something sexy to meet for a late night business exchange. You were flirting, whether or not you meant it to TEST me, at the end of the day it wasn’t about me. It was about you, and I’m done talking about it. I need to think where I go from here.”

To make a long story longer, we managed to have quite a few more very loud arguments (in private) about it.

When he left for his “guy” weekend, I decided since I was already accused of being a privacy invader, what did I have to lose?

NEVER, EVER underestimate a woman’s ability to find shit out when she’s mad.

I hacked his mail, his ipad, his computer. I found a couple of photos of him, Tran, and a woman we shall call Piggy (for obvious reasons, just sayin’) in the garage of our Arizona house partying. Piggy’s long standing crush on Wyatt was a joke among our friends who enjoyed ribbing him about it.

I wasn’t laughing anymore.

The date on these photos were at a time that I was still working 6 days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day. For us. For our future, while he was partying with Tran and Piggy at our other house?

It wasn’t a smoking gun, but still this was more than I could take.

I needed a time out. I needed to think. Away from this place. Away from everyone.

Belatedly I realized that I had no support system in place for this kind of thing. My little sister had been my support system, and she was gone.

A nagging question begged to be answered.

Would I be ok alone?

I hadn’t been alone since I was 20 years old, and  a short year after getting married, became a single Mom.

The nagging question became a shouting question. WOULD I BE OK ALONE?

I didn’t have an answer. I truly didn’t know. I needed to know. More than I needed anything else.

And my heart needed to heal. In so many ways.

I turned to a very unlikely source for comfort. I turned to my bucket list…and the solo Pacific Coast Highway trip was born.

The fun begins next time dear diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Aging House In The Mirror

Dear Diary,

I am notorious in my family for awkwardness with electronics. It was no surprise to my daughter when I accidently “Facetimed” her from my ipad. So much so that she doesn’t even bother to answer anymore.

What was such a huge surprise to me was the old lady I was looking at on my screen. At first, I didn’t even know myself. Then I realized the old lady was mirroring my motions, and I quickly shut it down.

I have never spent time in front of the mirror. I put make up on if I’m going out, but it’s for everyone else’s sake that may look my way, not mine. I never give another thought to my appearance for the rest of the day.

I think of the skin I live in as just a house for who I really am. I don’t live on the outside of my house, I live on the inside.

I guess that’s why it is such a shock when I see photos with me in them, or as in the case last night, see myself beyond the make-up mirror. I don’t feel that old. I feel like I should look the way I did 30 years ago, because my mind and soul don’t feel aged.

Sage with time maybe, but certainly not as ancient as the old lady on my screen.

I’ve never even considered enhancing the outside of my house. Maybe because I thought God didn’t give me much to work with from the start, and since it wasn’t meant to last forever anyway, I tried not to get too mad about it being so deficient when compared to all those around me.

There is the key I wish I would have found sooner…don’t compare my house to anyone else’s house. Each of our houses is one of a kind, specially built to match no other, not meant to be compared to any standard.

It was meant to be appreciated for the rare gift that it is. The definition of unhappiness is wanting things different than what they are. Yet…that’s what most of us do. We hold ourselves up to images on magazine covers that have been “photoshopped” to perfection. An impossible illusion.

That’s why the “beauty” industry is ever burgeoning. It is more than happy to help one try and achieve what is impossible, especially when the ability to digitally enhance images keeps upping the stakes.

I’m all for being the best we can be, but what would happen if everyone suddenly became happy to be exactly who they already are on the outside?

That’s not good for business.

I had no hope of ever competing with anyone else, so I’ve always been much more interested with what needed fixing on the inside and have no plans to ever finish that project.

The inside is what I’ll take with me when I go. The house stays here.

I’m not judging anyone else who spends time staring at their mirror, it’s just not for me.

My little sister Susan was born beautiful. She was without even trying. Her perfect olive skin, her heart face, her dazzling smile. I remember when I was about 24 or 25, Susan and I went to Olan Mills to have our photos taken together as a Mother’s Day gift to our mother. The photographer thought I was Susan’s mother. I’m only 2 years older than her for crying out loud.

Susan

Susan

Yet, while still in her twenties, she began enhancing what was already perfect.

She ramped up focusing on the outside after her daughter died. She’d had a tummy tuck (what tummy?), liposuction, and a facelift by 39. When I packed up her house after her suicide at 40, on her calendar was a future appointment to have her lips injected.

I know now that the acceleration of perfecting the outside was to create a beautiful mask for what writhing regrets and pain were doing on the inside, however misplaced those regrets were didn’t matter.

I think when we work toward mending or developing what’s on the inside, the outside takes care of itself. Have you ever seen a happy person that is hard to look at? We are drawn to them, like hungry ants to sugar. Happiness from inside is what makes a house beautiful on the outside. Without exception.

It’s not surprising that my house shows more weathering than those around me the same age. I’ve demanded quite a lot from it over its 56 years and frankly am surprised it’s still standing at all. Because I drove it from the inside, I know I pushed it harder than I should have. But God bless it, my house is still trying to keep up even as it is irreparably breaking down.

That’s not to say that the inside didn’t have its share of storms. Some were so dark and long that the fire in my soul was reduced to embers, and many times I was afraid it would go out altogether.

Then I learned to let God and time fan the embers back to life. This light is eternal, it never really goes out anyway. It just moves into God’s house when it’s free. Kind of makes it sound like our earthly home could really be a prison doesn’t it?

It just might be.

I also learned to open up the closets and let the light shine on the monsters that reside there. When the monsters are allowed to be kept hidden in the dark, they become bigger and more menacing than us mere mortals think we can handle. Opening those dark doors and shining a light on what’s inside in our own time, allows us to see monsters for what they really are, small and insignificant with no teeth at all.

When I finally became brave enough to look at the biggest monsters I was hiding since I was a child, I realized they didn’t even belong to me, they were remnants of the evil that my stepfather rained on us and taught us to keep hidden. Those will always be there as dark memories, but I don’t claim their monstrous origin.

The monsters that are of my own creation will always be there also, but when I feel them trying to gather strength to erode the forgiveness I’ve worked so hard to allow myself, however painful it may be I must face them anew.

I remind myself that they reside in the past, they are not here, are not now. Then they are reduced again to just an old bad memory…until the next time they try and rule. Monsters tend to want to kick me when I’m down, so now I know to keep an eye out for them when I’m vulnerable.

The truth is, there are so many good and happy memories in my house the little monsters pale in comparison.

Redirect the focus, which is the key to positivity versus negativity. Light versus dark.

I promise when you look into my eyes which are the windows of my house, you will see that I am looking back out at you. I am seeing you from the inside.

We are not both on the outside looking at me. Unless I accidently “Facetime” you, but chances are I’ll shut it down before you can answer.

Let my weathered house be a testimony to the storms it has endured. That it still endures. It may be older and breaking down on the outside, but it is ageless and strives to be beautifully happy on the inside.

Where I live.

Until next time dear diary.

The Clarity List

Dear Diary,

Clarity – [klar-i-tee]

Noun – clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.

The Clarity List. The most important list anyone will ever make, and you haven’t heard of it because it’s the last list anyone makes. If you’re lucky, you are given time to make it. I know because I had what turned out to be a dry run at it last year.

It’s the list you make when you’ve been given a death sentence.

Your life-force is an amazing thing. It makes sure you sail through life with very little thought to the end. Even when you’ve been given the death sentence, once it’s rescinded you go right back to where you left off without giving the clarity list another thought.

That’s a good thing.

But since I DID make one, I merged it into my bucket list.

It’s hard to trick your life-force into letting you make a clarity list before it’s time. Your mind is not easily tricked. It’s always on the job.

But you should try.

It’s funny that what I thought would be important to me at the end, was not.

I thought I would care about my husband’s new wife spending my 401k. I didn’t.

I thought I would want to jump on a plane and go to #1 on my bucket list (Tahiti). I didn’t.

I thought it would be important to itemize who got what of my earthly possessions. It wasn’t.

When I was staring the grim reaper in the face it was much different than I thought it would be. It was amazing at how quickly and easily it was to see what was most important.

Not money. Not places. Not things.

Clarity.

Only two things became important.

Spending time with people I love became paramount. On any terms.

Seeing the beauty around me. Have you ever seen how beautiful the world is when you are about to leave it? I hope you haven’t. But you should try. Even the smallest thing like a lady bug or the green of grass is so beautiful. It’s like seeing it for the first time. Really seeing it.

Clarity.

No fear. All those things that kept me awake at night like who pissed me off or how much money I spent against my budget or the to-do list for next week, simply fell away. None of that mattered.

All of my little nagging fears didn’t scare me anymore.

Except dying.

How much pain would I be in? How long would I linger? Have I done enough to insure I would go to heaven? Have I done enough to make sure my family will meet me there?

Have I told everyone how much they mean to me?

Clarity.

I didn’t regret any of the things I thought I would regret. But I did have a few.

I regretted all of the time I spent caring about what other people thought.

I regretted not being happier with the body God gave me.

I regretted not making my kids go to church every Sunday.

Hey, I’m just being honest.

After my death sentence was repealed, my life-force kicked right back in, but I have put a few things in place as a result of my clarity list.

I am available and present with my family now. No distractions. I drop everything when a friend calls. My door is always open to those I love.

And it’s closed to those that don’t deserve my time anymore. The drama loving, negative, destructive folks have had to be let go. It wasn’t easy (they don’t like not being enabled or having to do for themselves) but they take away, rather than give to the richness of life.

Clarity.

I have two little chests (one for each of my children) that I drop notes into every time I think of a story from when they were little or something I want them to know after I’m gone. Like how much I love them.

Clarity.

I am going on my first camping trip in 30 years (where there are no bears, I am still afraid of bears no matter what list I’m looking at) and although it’s not a place that is on my bucket list, the time I get to spend with my hubby unplugged and appreciating beauty wherever I am satisfies both items on my very short clarity list.

The most important list of all.

Until next time dear diary.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Had to say Goodbye To Facebook

Dear Diary,

I never thought I’d say this, but I had to say goodbye to Facebook. I didn’t want to, but I had to. It became a habit before I noticed that I had turned into a FB thinking, posting, checking, liking machine. An addict.

In my defense, I started spending more and more time on FB when I was ill and  housebound.

Let’s go with that anyway.

I realize now that it is a shiny object that lured me in like a zombie.  Except I have (or used to) a brain and FB ate it slowly, mindless post by mindless post.

I’m not judging, I had just as many mindless posts as anyone else.

I decided to quit cold turkey as a test to see what impact it would have on my life. It’s been 2 months now and all I can say is…Wow.  I’m so done.

And here are my top 10 reasons why;

Reason #1 – It’s Not Real.  It’s what everyone wants their audience to believe. It’s life edited for affect. Status postings love or hurt deeper, live better, go farther, jump higher, run faster…oh snap, I just morphed into an old PF Flyer commercial! I’m tired of feeling inadequate in the wake of everyone’s fantasy posts. If I want to read about a superhero, I’ll pick up a book or find a blog. We all know comparing our lives with everyone else’s doesn’t end well…but it gets hard not to.

Reason #2 – What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen. – And I’m not talking about the 300 pound twerker, although that’s 1 minute out of my life I’ll never get back. I’m talking about the shock pictures or videos that show up in my news feed depicting some sort of horror that is meant to go viral. I will never ever get the images of the hanging puppy or the baby being hit with a throw pillow out of my head. Ever. I understand that bad things happen in the world (see Reason #3), but the idea that these bad things were done so somebody could get a million shares? It makes me afraid for the human race, and I don’t like that feeling.

Reason #3 – The World Got Too Small. If I want to be abreast of crime in LA, I’ll turn on the news or check it on the news feed when I log onto my email. I don’t want to know about vandalism in Minnesota. All the bad news in the world is depressing, especially for the 30th time.  I have nothing against Minnesota, I just know my limits on exactly how much of a negative feed my psyche can take. Besides, if it’s on Facebook how do I know it’s real news? Refer to Reason #1.

Reason #4The FML’ers. I try really hard to remember that everything is relative, but when someone posts FML because Starbucks forgot their cup sleeve when someone else is battling cancer and never says FML, it’s difficult to be sympathetic. And you know what the FML Starbucks posters’ turn into? A waste of my time. Which leads to Reason #5.

Reason #5 – It’s a Time Thief. Let’s just say I spent an hour a day on FB (and on many, many days it was more). That’s 365 hours a year minimum. What could I have done with 365 hours? I’m embarrassed to say quite a bit. If my days are numbered (and all of ours are), I am not going to spend them on FB. I would rather be in a moment that does not involve staring at an electronic screen. I would rather be outside feeling the sun, smelling the air, and accomplishing something, if only to keep my muscles in a minimum of working order. I would rather spend the time to talk to a friend face to face, shake their hand, and give them a real facial expression, not an emoticon. If I’m going to waste my precious time, I’m going to waste it on something that makes me feel a little better when I’m done. Facebook just isn’t worth the time it steals.

Reason #6 – FOMO. Fear of missing out. Increasingly my friends and family have used Facebook to announce really important things. I became scared to death to miss a post or postings for fear I would not know about an engagement, a health problem, an accident, etc. the list is endless. If someone wants me to know something important now, they’re going to have to let me know the old fashioned way. They’re going to have to text me.

Reason #7 – Save The World. This one I feel a little guilty about, but the truth is I can’t join every cause or fix every broken thing on earth. I would be out of time and money by tomorrow. When I share a status to raise awareness about an issue that is unquestionably a good thing, but when I am sending it from my couch to someone else on their couch and so on, how much is really being done to change it? If we as FB users believe we are bringing about change on any issue by sharing a status, I would like to see the statistics. Again, I don’t want to minimize the importance of global awareness, but I’ll pick an issue I am passionate about and actively work toward change. That will require getting up off the couch, I can guarantee it.

Reason #8 – There Are Some Things I Don’t Want To Know.  I don’t want to know the results of a bathroom visit. I don’t want to know who got lucky last night. I also don’t want to know that someone I admire is actually mentally disturbed. Well maybe I do, but not through a series of really disturbing posts. I’m still mad that someone I looked up to as a strong spiritual advisor was actually hooked on posting some pretty graphic sexual smut. When I tried to discreetly unfriend him…oh man I’m still dealing with that cray cray drama. Mentally disturbed people don’t like being called on their BS, even if it’s through what’s not being said or “liked”.

Reason #9 – Friend is Such an Overused Term. You know what a friend is in my book? A friend is someone who puts up with being seen with me in public. That’s what a true friend is. I may be unique in that everyone on my Facebook friend list is someone I actually know, but maybe 5% of those would put up with being seen with me in public on a regular basis. THAT’s what a true friend is, and I vow to spend my time nurturing those nuts. Those who only wish to be associated with me (or vice versa) from afar probably don’t even know I’m gone. Oh yes…and the haters. Why do people want to see you fail so badly? When I fall down, I’d rather do it around those that want to help me get back up with actually lending me a hand, not a like. Or a smug comment. Bitches.

Reason #10 – What Would Jesus Do? I imagine the conversation would go something like this upon my arrival to the pearly gates.

Jesus – “Welcome my daughter, I have forgiven you of your many sins and am pleased that you tried hard to be good and help those around you. Why did you stop so near to the end?”

Me – “I didn’t stop Lord. I sort of cared about all of those people that the people that I know shared their postings on Facebook.”

Jesus – “And what did you do to ease their suffering?”

Me – “I liked their posts.”

Whew…thank God I stopped myself in time to change this conversation.

Until next time dear diary.

 

 

 

 

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.