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The Enigma of Chaos

Christmas 1989, Austin, a southern city that does not handle cold well, had an extended hard freeze. Pipes froze and burst, rooms were flooded, water was turned off. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my younger daughter, then a teen. Pipes in the next apartment burst, flooding my daughter’s walk-in closet. We moved everything into the living room, hauled water in buckets from neighboring buildings that still had water, and made the best of it during the holiday break.

After a few days of living in the mess, I got my paints out. I had graduated from St. Ed’s the previous spring with my art degree, but I was working a full-time administrative job and sharing space with the daughter, not an arrangement conducive to making art. But I set up an easel on the dining table and painted away.

This move has again proven what I learned then: I’m an obsessive control freak who feels a constant need for order, yet when everything falls apart I tend to fall into the flow and let creativity take over. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t: when control becomes simply impossible, I relinquish the need for control.


Living room shot for the real estate listing (credit AustinRealPros).


Our living room yesterday (that is not an assault rifle; it’s a water blaster used in one of Gary’s plays, and it’s on its way to Goodwill now).

Last week I had some panic: “There is no way we’ll ever get all this stuff cleared out and packed.” But  things got moving, a friend offered to help me pack art, and now, just over two weeks before Moving Day, I’m relaxed enough to sit here blogging. This afternoon I’m having a massage and acupuncture.

Tomorrow is my birthday and we’re having our traditional lunch at Chez Zee with an old friend, with whom I share a birthday, and her husband.

Three weeks before the end of school I decided to knit washcloths for my granddaughter’s teachers; they make nice gifts wrapped around a bar of fancy soap.

And still I knit.

As I turn 72, I am so grateful for good health, family, friends, and our new adventure.



Bound and Determined

Binders are toys for the obsessive compulsive.

Since I started my postcard obsession a year ago, I’ve been keeping scans of all the cards (well over 100 now!) in a binder, which was getting full. So off I went to Office Depot for a new binder. Thirty dollars later, a couple of new binders and some sleeve protectors in hand, I discovered the domino effect of updating.

Let’s see, the tatty old binder with my knitting patterns…. The manila envelope with my most-used recipes…. A huge red binder with all my poems. Then there was one with notes from a college drawing classes in purple ditto! (If you’re under 50 you have no idea how teachers made copies before Xerox made it easy. Correctly termed “spirit duplicators,” they used a waxy purple mat and alcohol, and the smell of fresh copies gave you a tiny high.)

About half a day after that trip down memory lane, here’s how it all turned out. CAM01483

Pretty new Jillybeans binder, plus poems and various writing notebooks

Pretty new Jillybeans binder, plus poems and various writing notebooks and books

Cards received, no longer  in a binder but held with a ring. Just need to find a nice place to display.

Cards received, no longer in a binder but held with a ring, but I need to find a nice place to hang them.


Shiny new polka dots for a new volunteer job I'm starting soon, and something nicer for knitting patters (the old one was duct-taped)

Shiny new polka dots for a new volunteer job I’m starting soon, and the ancient college “ditto” folder for knitting patterns (the old one was duct-taped)

The coup de grâce: since so many recipes are tiny clippings, labels and cards, I thought it would be nice to use the sheet protectors with little slots for postcards so I could find the small items easily and keep them neater. Clever, right? When I was finished, I discovered the binder was just a bit too wide and/or tall to fit into my cookbook cabinet. So it sits all by itself on top.

Neat little slots for the recipe scraps, which will someday be scanned, I swear!

Neat little slots for the recipe scraps, which will someday be scanned, I swear!

The door won't close

The door won’t close

New home

Will I remember to look up there when I’m in a hurry to find a favorite recipe?

Leftover, complete with the duct-taped folder and lots of dividers and sheet protectors for my next little OCD attack.

Leftovers, complete with the duct-taped folder and lots of dividers and sheet protectors for my next little OCD attack.

I have to wonder: if I’m really OCD, wouldn’t I have all my recipes scanned and organized by now? Yeah, that’ll happen, someday–after I finish three knitting and two needlework projects, publish my next book of poems, do 100 more postcards, refinish my desk and paint the quilt rack in our room to match the rest of the furniture. At least I have a list.

The Burning Bowl and the Dead Bird

We had a burning bowl ceremony the last church service of 2013, writing things to be rid of in the New Year on slips of paper and burning them. Afterwards I told the minister, “I think I wrote the same thing last year.”

My paper said “Struggling with time.”

Starting my fifth year of retirement, I’m finding a rhythm. Despite wanting to sleep late every day at first, now I find I’m more productive waking to soft classical music at a reasonable 7:30 (I rose at 5 when I was working). It’s nice to putter around making coffee, writing morning pages or meditating, rather than racing to make up for time spent in bed.

But there never will be enough hours in the day, and I’m still frustrated by my lack of focus. In addition to all I’m already doing—poetry, writing, knitting, time with grandchildren, household projects—there are other pursuits I want to try.

Quilting has long attracted me, but sitting at a sewing machine seems too much like work. I considered hand quilting, which has more appeal. But one day I was trying to figure a way to repurpose a pair of guest towels given to me years ago, and realized I want to try hand appliqué! Found one book at the library but have only flipped through it.

Would they make tiny pillows?

Would they make tiny pillows?

One day on a walk I was puzzling through this dilemma of too many interests and too little time. Encountering a dead bird—or its parts, the head being separated from the body—


Bird head

Already works of art

Already works of art

I thought about an artist who paints dead animals, tiny bird bones and the like. That reminded me of a blogger who highlights cutting-edge embroiderers, one of whom stitches birds.

Embroidery by Chloe Giordano from The Smallest Forest blog.

Embroidery by Chloe Giordano from The Smallest Forest blog.

All this came together in my mind, saying “Go back to the beginning. Go back to drawing. Just draw for a while, and don’t plan what to do after that.” I took many drawing classes toward my art degree. The teachers said “Draw every day.”

When I cleaned up my studio/office in last month I joked that someone in this house ought to take up art, because we have supplies: pencil, charcoal, pastel, oil pastel, markers, water-color pencils, paint, ink, and appropriate paper. My husband gave me a book, “The Yoga of Drawing,” that I’ve barely cracked. That would be a start, maybe with the dead bird.

So that is my “plan.” But: there are knitting and sewing projects pending; always newspapers, books and magazines to read; a Netflix movie growing mold; poems needing revision, and I should be submitting poems for publication. A stack of old family albums to scan and return to my niece. Book ideas. Recipes to try. Most important, grand-kid time.

An elderly friend once said, when I told her I was overwhelmed during a move, “Be thankful you have too much to do.” She is gone now.

New Year’s: Peaking at Nine?

Technically I was 8 1/2. We had been in the U.S. for about six weeks and it was the first New Year’s I remember, the first one I stayed up to greet, 1954.

My mother had quickly become friends with another English woman, who invited us to their party. I remember almost nothing of the evening but it remains a treasured New Year’s memory.

The other “best” was 1995, when my husband and I had been dating about three months. He had a murder mystery gig at a hotel in Fort Worth. Afterwards the manager sent a bottle of champagne to the cast table. I wore a borrowed black cocktail dress, there was a band, and we danced. Later, I did my first (and only) karaoke, “Leader of the Pack” with two other women. It was terrible, but great fun, both of which I attribute to the champagne.

The absolute worst New Year’s was 2001, when Gary had another gig, this time a private party that I attended with him. We left before midnight “to beat the drunks,” but we were hit by a pickup running a red light, totaling our car and sending us both to the ER, where we greeted the millennium on side-by-side gurneys. We got home at 5 a.m., lucky to be only slightly injured, but the repercussions (physical, psychological and financial) continued for months. We ultimately had to get an attorney to reach a settlement from, yes, I’ll name the insurance company: USAA.

The year before, with the Y2K “scare,” a friend joined us to celebrate in the condo hot tub with a bottle of bubbly.

I’ve missed many New Year’s celebrations, including a couple (1990 and 2008) when I was deathly ill, once with the flu and the other with a violent stomach virus. The best “miss” was Savannah in 2012. After dinner and a bottle of wine at Paula Deen’s restaurant we went back to our b&b to rest, intending to go back out. I awoke with the clock reading 12:00, wondering why it was so quiet, then the fireworks and horns began. We didn’t get up.

Lately we stay home and don’t even last till midnight. This year we’ll have Chloe overnight. I’ll let her stay up, but at age seven she probably won’t make it till midnight. We’ll go to a couple of New Year’s Day parties.

Saying goodbye to a mostly very good year, I am putting my blog on hiatus for a short while. I have some deadline projects, including the print publicity for the next Paradox Players show, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks; I am about six months late in getting out a condo newsletter (not that anyone but me is counting); and being OCD I am desperate to do a massive cleaning and reorganization of the house. We are coming up on 15 years in the condo, the longest I’ve ever lived in one house. I believe God intended us to move every five years, so it’s time to pretend we’re moving and do a major purge. I even have a sage-sweetgrass bundle to smudge and purify afterwards. I’m hoping for a year of music, poetry, travel, good health and new experiences.

I also plan to refresh and redesign my blog. In the meantime, thank you for reading the ups and downs (mostly ups) of “Radical Retirement.” I wish everyone a healthy, happy and blessed 2014.

A spiritual practice of mindfulness and meditation will be part of my 2014.

A spiritual practice of mindfulness and meditation will be part of my 2014.



Seventh Summer: Crazy-mad construction

Another episode in the conflict between my obsessive-compulsive neatnik and the creative artist, with an inconclusive outcome.

Trying to keep a six-year-old occupied without swimming or going out into Saturday crowds, we considered house tents, but Gary wanted to build something with boxes. Getting off to a terrible start, Chloe grabbed one of the shoe boxes and started cutting it up before Gary could explain what to do. He got mad and said he was going to the pool, adding insult to injury (his injury, her insult). Around this time I received delivery of a suitcase I had ordered, so we had big new box for building. While Gary cooled off (in both senses), Chloe crawled into the new box with her blankie while I put groceries and lunch things away. I was not happy with her behavior either so I wanted her to stew in her own juices for a while, and the box was a good place to do it.

Stewing done, we turned the box into an animal hospital, using blankets, plastic syringes, forceps, swabs, cotton pads, ice packs and water to treat whatever ailed the babies.

Animal doctor

Animal doctor

Treating the animals

Treating the animals











Once they were wet, we tried a hair dryer but found the solar dryer much better.

Solar drying

Solar drying

While they were drying we went out to the pool and dangled our feet. Chloe made herself a leafy headdress while I visited with a neighbor.

The latest summer headwear

The latest summer headwear

Chloe got her big girl on and apologized to Gary, and they set to work making houses, using an abundance of duct tape, straws  and various boxes.

Is it a house or a robot?

Is it a house or a robot?


Chloe in robot house


After dinner they wanted to paint everything. I got out my acrylic paints and brushes–not the best choice, in retrospect, but the floor, light switches, clothes and furniture will eventually come clean, right?

Mad crazy painting

Mad crazy painting




GC painting









While paint flowed (and flew) in the dining room, the neatnik scanned the living room in despair.

Disaster area

Disaster area

Gary put the boxes outside to dry, but when she went to bed Chloe asked me to make sure they were brought in because she was worried about wind and “possums.”

The next morning the animals settled into their new homes. Chloe wanted to take the houses home (with Gary’s ok), and I’m sure her parents were just thrilled with bulky additions to their decor.

Animals' new home

Animals’ new home


animals in little house tight crop











Her new dad (who’s been in her life about a year) often remarks about how creative she is. I believe all kids are creative when given the time, materials, opportunity and encouragement. Chloe doesn’t spend much time in front of screens. I prefer seeing her make crazy, mad art.

And all is now cleaned up; my neatnik is happy once more.

PRSD,* Part the Third, and Finale!

I hope it’s the Finale.

Two weeks ago, at about the time the shakes usually hit, 11 or 11:30 a.m., I somehow knew they weren’t coming that day. I had stopped drinking even decaf coffee, thinking maybe that tiny amount of caffeine was causing the jitters. Then I wondered if it was the Prozac and started drinking decaf again, with no shakes. Voilà, it must be the Prozac.

Then stomach problems kicked in, so the doctor prescribed ranitidine (Zantac), and suggested I try different dosing times, which seems to have fixed the problems. I feel like my (better) self: calm yet energetic. My granddaughter’s behavior has improved. I’m sleeping well. I’ve also noticed the OCD has abated. Previously, as soon as I got back from taking Chloe home I would tidy up the markers, silly putty and other kid clutter. Last week I looked at the mess and thought “eh.” WHAT? ME? This is an astonishing and welcome side effect (as long as I don’t turn into a complete slob, which is doubtful. I still make the bed and don’t leave dishes in the sink.)

For a fairly healthy person I take a lot of pills. I’m not diabetic, I don’t have heart problems or high blood pressure. My only chronic conditions are periodic low back problems, seasonal allergies and a wonky digestive system. Yet each day I put into my mouth at least 20 pills, including prescriptions and supplements.

If that’s what it takes, along with eating a healthful diet, exercising and getting enough sleep—what everybody knows to do but I really do—I’m ok with taking pills.

I wonder if my granddaughter is calmer because I am, or if she is just maturing. I suspect it’s a self-feeding cycle. I am grateful and hope it continues. We had what may have been our last swim on Saturday (the water was 72°, about the temperature of Austin’s iconic Barton Springs and warmer than the Pacific was in July, but still awfully chilly). But it’s warm again, so we may be back in the pool tomorrow.

Last swim of 2012?

Another joy this week was celebrating my joining the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin in October, 1982. I cherish that community and all it stands for and took flowers to mark the occasion.

Postings may be scant for a while. We are embarking on major redecorating, including carpet removal, painting and replacing the downstairs flooring with laminate. We’re not doing it ourselves, but it’s still a lot of work—planning, shopping, preparation, moving small furniture, knickknacks and books upstairs, taking all the pictures off the walls, packing up the china cabinet (which is bolted to the wall). The carpet comes up on November 2, and the work should be done before Thanksgiving. Oh, and I have a routine colonoscopy scheduled for November 1.

Back to the Sisyphean task of scraping our bathroom wall—28-year-old wallpaper next to a shower. Need I say more?

Endless, thankless task.


* Post-retirement Stress Disorder


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