More on the First Years of My Retirement

Not what retirement is for, but a definite advantage to spending all day at home

Not what retirement is for, but a definite advantage to spending all day at home

Even though I retired at age sixty-two to become a full-time writer–I wasn’t yet a published author–I soon learned that I couldn’t spend eight hours a day five days a week writing. Not every week, anyhow. The important thing was I had ENOUGH time to write consistently.

Although I realized that writing would continue to serve as my main activity, I gradually learned that I had time for other activities as well.

One of the most important is the nursing home ministry my church is involved with on Wednesday mornings. I joined the team that handles the services there all but the second Wednesday of each month. I became the second guitar player on the team, which has been fun, and I’ve become an even better by-ear player than before, since I don’t have access to the words and chords.

I do a solo every week–one of my own songs–but I don’t participate in the singing otherwise. Not that I wouldn’t be free to, but I couldn’t take an hour of standing, Plus I still don’t know some of the songs–make that MANY of them–the team uses, and the majority of them are in a key that’s wrong for my voice.

But doing what I can do is very fulfilling. I’ve even learned to become more comfortable with old folks who are much more decrepit than I hope I’ll ever be.

Another musical project is playing bass guitar for the Christmas musical. Although I’ve been playing bass almost as long as I’ve been playing guitar, I’m not into the fancy stuff. In order to make my playing as effective as possible, I usually spend about an hour a day practicing with a professional CD of the musical–from September until Christmas.

My wife and I walk for exercise four evenings a week. Although I was already walking by myself on Friday mornings, I’ve recently begun  doing an extra half-hour walk three to four days a week. Although outdoors in the neighborhood is preferable, I like going to the mall sometimes even when the weather is good because–being at home by myself so much with just the dog and cat–it gives me a change of scenery.

I admit it! One of my favorite almost-daily activities is an afternoon snooze. Soon after my wife returns to work after lunch, I sack out on the sofa with the miniature dachshund curled up beside me under the afghan. Thirty minutes is amazingly refreshing. The only problem is making myself get started again after I wake up. I try to limit Solitaire and Words with Friends to evenings and break times.

And then there’s helping with the regular grocery shopping (and picking up occasional items we’ve run out of), doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, and doing the vacuuming. Only occasionally am I asked to fix something; Kathleen knows my weaknesses.

However, I occasionally put together something (new kitchen stools are the most recent project) that comes unassembled.  Sometimes I even shock Kathleen by following the directions and not having any parts left over.

Of course, I also am taking more pictures, spending more time working on my blogs and website, and reading. Not only am I on track with a read-the-Bible-through Kindle app, I’m currently reading two biblical non-fiction books; which one I read when depends on what room I’m in at the time. I’m usually reading fiction, though.

My health seems to be good. Even so, the past seven years have seen me have cataract surgery on both eyes (several years apart) and a minor “procedure” that has failed to eliminate the mystery pain that has been and is continuing to bother me.

I was diagnosed with diabetes three or four years ago, but my doctor hit the nail on the head when he told me to lose weight instead of counting carbs. I lost fifty pounds, take a prescription called Metformin, and do a blood sugar test on myself once a week. The reading hasn’t been as high as 100 in years, and I’m thankful God has taken care of that problem.

I’m not quite as agile as I used to be at my guitar playing, but that hasn’t yet proven a major problem. However, I did quit making wooden crosses and walking sticks because of how those activities hurt my hands. And I’m none too sure I’ll be up to any more mission trips.

As you can see, these health issues–no matter how minor–affect what I feel like doing and–to a lesser extent–what I’m able to do. Sixty-nine isn’t that old, but the end is coming–sooner or later. When, God alone knows. But I enjoy my retirement just as I enjoy and appreciate life itself, and I’m thankful to have such fulfilling activities to keep me busy.

What about you? Whether you’re retired or not, do you find life fulfilling? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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A Yearly Christmas Tradition

As I was typing the title for today’s post, it occurred to me that my wife and I don’t have many traditions. Eating pizza whenever it snows might qualify as one, but always having Sunday dinner out seems more like a habit than a tradition.

Even when it comes to Christmas, we have very few traditions. In fact, only one comes to mind. Opening presents when we get home from the Christmas Eve service at church. Without kids to wake us up on Christmas morning, it seems like a good practice.

A good practice? See? I didn’t even think to refer to it as a tradition.

But there’s one Christmas tradition my wife doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in, and I had the chance to enjoy it today (“today” is last Wednesday).

As many of you know, especially if you’ve been following this blog for a while or paying attention to the songs I post on my website, I participate in our church’s weekly nursing home ministry. Except on the second Wednesday of the month when a different group comes to conduct the service.

Our services consist mostly of our group singing hymns familiar to the residents and doing a brief devotional. It’s also a time for me to get to share one of my two hundred or so original songs.

Our group consists of two leaders–I think of them both as leaders, anyhow, even though Jeff is now the pastor at a different church–and three others who sing. Three more people come and mingle with the residents, help to bring them to the dining hall, and assist the residents in numerous other ways. They also help to stow our equipment away once we finish.

The other members of the team are people I have very little contact with at church or elsewhere, even though we have a very good relationship at the nursing home and I thoroughly enjoy being with them. I’m able to ignore the fact that five of them are actually older than I am!

My one Christmas tradition, the one my wife doesn’t get to participate in, is a group dinner at Cracker Barrel on the Wednesday closest to Christmas Day–or, as it worked out this year, one week before.

All but one member of our group participated–she had made other plans–and we enjoyed a special time of fellowship as well as a yummy meal. Considering some of the differences in age, interests, and life experiences, our ability to enjoy one another that way is remarkable. Wonderful.

One thing that makes this meal time together special for me is the realization that–even though all of us seem to be in good health–our celebration together next year might see drastic changes. Somebody might have died. Or have become seriously ill.

As weird as it feels to consider the possibility, one of us might even have become a resident at the nursing home and no longer able to participate actively in the ministry there.

That’s probably the main reason this tradition means so much to me. Although the practice of eating together at Cracker Barrel may continue for years to come, those participating next year may not all be the same ones who participated this year.

I love and appreciate my fellow team members, and I just want to thank them for the role they play–not only in the lives of the nursing home residents, but in mine.

Do you have a special tradition–related to Christmas or to something else? How about sharing a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Fact or Fiction?

Probably the most common piece of advice a new writer learns is “write what you know.”

I was thinking about that recently while working on my twentieth revision of a novel manuscript called Impractically Yours. It’s a love story about a middle aged man and woman who become best friends but are afraid of spoiling their friendship by actually falling in love. They both have trust issues, and Robbie nearly wrecks his relationship with Maria by playing an unfortunate practical joke she has promised to take well but fails to do.

Many non-writers are familiar with “write what you know” as well. No wonder they sometimes ask whether I’m the protagonist in my novels.

The answer is no. Not really. Or at least not completely. But Robbie and I do have some characteristics in common:

  • Robbie is a Christian–and a Baptist; me, too
  • He’s middle-aged; I was middle-aged when I wrote the original version of this novel
  • Robbie considers himself average-looking, and even Maria describes him as nondescript; that’s how I see myself
  • Robbie has played guitar for many years and has at least a passing familiarity with some other instruments; me, too
  • Robbie has a beautiful old Martin guitar; I have a lesser, more recent one
  • Robbie’s musical style dates back to the folk fad of the 1960s and he’s never outgrown it; boy, is that me!
  • Robbie writes Christian songs; I do, too
  • Robbie is big on home recording and happy to make the move from analog to digital recording; that’s me to a T
  • Robbie is a practical joker, a joker, and a punster; I’m a punster and joker, but definitely not a practical joker
  • Robbie had a very limited social life in high school; ditto!
  • Robbie and I prefer for a woman to have long, straight, naturally colored hair and almost no makeup–especially not the heavy eye makeup that he and I describe as “the raccoon look”
  • Robbie overcomes his fear of old people and visits a local nursing home regularly; I’m part of a weekly nursing home ministry

I could probably go on for pages, but no need to bore you unnecessarily. The point is Robbie and I are similar in many ways, but we’re not the same person at all.

There are similarities in my other novels as well. Several are about Preacher’s Kids who would rather have fathers with “normal” vocations. Several take place in Virginia and at least one is in an actual Richmond suburb. One is about fighting a weight problem and part of it takes place in a Target store. All of those relate in some way to my background.

If anything, I hope this blog post will make you curious about the next novel you pick up. Is it totally autobiographical or at least partially so? Or does it bare no resemblance to the author’s life circumstances?

Is it fact or is it fiction?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment.

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

When an Introverted Writer Needs Company

HappyGirl 005     HappyGirl 003     SleepingAuthor

I’m an introvert.

No, I’m not overly shy, especially when you put a guitar in my hands and put me in front of an audience.

I’m the kind of introvert who draws his energy from being alone or with a VERY small group of friends and gets extremely worn out just from being around more people than that. Especially for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

Computer programming was my perfect job for a number of years, because I worked in the solitude of my cubicle, coming out only for meetings and food.

That was then, but this is now.

I’m a published novelist. Once again I have the perfect job. Not only do I get to exercise my creativity and language skills, I get to stay home to do it. If I decide not to shave or shower one day, so what? My wife doesn’t object, and I have almost complete control over the number of people I’ll run into that day.

Most days start out at the Sonic fast food place that’s about a quarter mile from home. Brittney, Keyes, and Cassie (names misspelled to protect the innocent) know me so well I just say, “I’ll take my regular, please,” and one of them has my large diet cherry limeade ready by the time I get to the window.

I feel like I have a real relationship with those folks, even though I don’t actually know them. They seem to like me, though. If my wife finds three cherries at the bottom of my cup rather than the single cherry regular customers get, she knows Cassie waited on me. If there are five or six, it was Brittney.

All too often, my visit to Sonic is the extent of my week-day human contact except with my wife, who—unfortunately—still has to spend seven-and-a-half hours a day at work; at least she comes home for lunch. Wednesdays offer a break because I play guitar at my church’s nursing home ministry—that takes most of the morning—and participate in a Wednesday night Bible study. Occasionally, I run errands that take me elsewhere.

An extrovert—that’s someone who’s energized by being around people—would go crazy trying to live my life. Just as I would go crazy trying to live his.

But do I feel the need for company sometimes? Absolutely.

So what do I do? Call people or talk to them via Skpe?

Nope. My best company during the day is a white cat named Ashes (he had grey specks on his head as a kitten) and a miniature dachshund named Happy.

Although they entertain me at times, the best thing they do is to settle down near me while I’m writing. Ashes occasionally lies on the top of the section of sofa I’m sitting on—something that gives Happy fits because she wants to play with him.

But Happy provides the best non-human company of all. More often than not, she lies down beside me and rests her head on my Toshiba netbook.

Regardless of the keystrokes I have to undo because her chin touched a key, I’d be hard pressed to ask for a more dedicated companion. Man’s best friend during the day is definitely four-legged.

<>

Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

As Long As Those Fingers Hold Out…

MontoyaOldProgram     MontoyaAlbumCover.pg     MontoyaNewProgram     MontoyaArticle

I started learning to play guitar soon after my birthday in September, 1962. I used money I’d been saving for my class ring to buy an eighteen dollar Silvertone. I didn’t even know how to tune it. Digital tuners were many years in the future.

With the folk fad in vogue at the time, I focused on learning finger picking. (Although I do strum some songs, I’ve never become comfortable or competent with a pick.) Learning the theory behind some of the basics didn’t take long, but making my fingers cooperate consistently seemed impossible.

As strange as it might sound, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and funeral changed all of that. I was off from school, and nothing but JFK-related programming was on TV, so I had LOTS of time to really polish those finger styles. Although I’ve added a lot to my techniques since then, I count that as when I really caught on to learning to play.

I do most of my playing now in my church’s nursing home ministry, where accuracy is less important than having a loving attitude. Not that I don’t practice quite a bit for the solo I do each week, but somehow I just don’t feel I still have what I used to have. Occasionally I even cheat and simplify something I’ve been doing a particular way for many years.

But what if I reach the point of no longer being nimble enough to play at all?

My mother was a very good pianist, but rheumatoid arthritis silenced her playing several years before her death. I don’t have any symptoms of that disease, but still…I don’t feel like I’m playing as well as I did ten or fifteen years ago.

But this post isn’t about me. Not really.

It’s about Carlos Montoya. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Montoya, people considered him the finest flamenco (that’s Spanish gypsy music) guitarist around. He lived from 1903 to 1993.

I went to see him in person while I was in high school—on Saturday, March 23, 1963. “Fabulous” doesn’t begin to describe his playing. Compared to him, I’ve never been a guitar player at all.

I saw him again years later—on July 30, 1986—when he was eighty-three. He wasn’t the same guitarist he’d been twenty-three years earlier, but nobody in that audience seemed to care. If anything, listeners were enthralled that he was still playing as well as he was.

Should I ever decline enough in my playing for other people to notice, I hope they won’t say, “Oh, he used to be so good.” I hope they’ll say, “He never quits trying, does he?”

Please leave a comment if something in this post speaks to you in a way you’d like to respond to. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog by Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I repost an old post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

Each Time I Visit

JeffChadwick     Creola     RickMike     JeanDonna

Three Wednesday mornings out of four each month, you’ll see me heading out to the car with my Taylor GS-mini guitar, 40-watt Fender amp, and a backpack holding everything from a guitar cable with a built-in volume control to a bottle of water, from a hand-held digital recorder to an apple. Even though I treasure my one Wednesday off each month, each of those outings has become a highlight of my week

My church holds a worship service on Wednesday mornings at a local nursing home, and I’ve been participating there regularly since I retired five years ago to write full-time.

Our services don’t resemble typical worship services any more than the residents’ wheelchairs resemble wooden pews. Although one of the team—usually one of my church’s former pastors who didn’t want to give up this ministry when he became the pastor of a new church—delivers a five-minute devotional, our services consist mostly of hymn singing, with a special or two thrown in for good measure.

Somebody told me years ago that old folks don’t want to hear new or unfamiliar songs. Since I’ve written about two hundred Christian songs in the last fifty years—that’s slowed down since I started writing novels—but didn’t really have any place to share them, I was delighted to learn that I’d been misled. Older adults are appreciative of anything and everything our team does.

Good thing. Although our leader brings a list of the songs we’ll be using, we don’t practice in preparation for our services. But we’ve learned to work together so well that our frequent flubs don’t embarrass us anymore than they bother the worshippers.

This nursing home ministry is something I’d never expected to take such an interest in. And not just because it gives me an outlet for my music.

You see, I never felt comfortable around older people before. At least not older people who were in such wretched physical conditions. I’ll bet some of you feel the same way.

It’s easy to understand why I felt that way. I didn’t want to admit that I might end up having some physical or mental condition that would make my continuing to live at home impractical. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t, no matter how hard I like to pretend that I’m invulnerable to permanent disabling conditions.

Consider Rick, one of our regular worshippers. He’s only several years younger than me. I don’t know what his specific problem is, but he uses a walker and moves quite slowly. He’s quite an encouragement to me.

And there’s Mike. Okay. I admit it. I’m lousy at guessing the ages of African-Americans. But Mike doesn’t look like he could be beyond his forties—and he has fun calling the rest of us teenagers. He’s recently lost his sight in both eyes. And he rarely gets to attend our services any more because his dialysis is scheduled for Wednesday mornings.

Yes, I could end up as a Rick or a Mike (well, minus the difference in skin color).

When my wife and I recently took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at church, one of the things we learned about was the importance of Long-term Care insurance. It’s quite costly, but—if needed—it’s cheaper than trying to pay for nursing home care out of the family budget. The only thing holding us back is the “quite costly.”

Although every visit to the nursing home has its uplifting moments, I can’t keep from looking at these individuals I’ve come to love and respect—even without knowing most of their names—and wondering, “Will I come here some day to live? What kind of condition would lead to that? Ad how would Kathleen deal with it?”

And the biggest question of all…how would I deal with it?

Please leave a comment to tell me how you feel about the prospect of nursing home life. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog by Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Find a list of them here. Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Last, but not least, if you’d like to hear some of my songs from the nursing home, go to RogerBruner.com and click on the Listen tab. You’ll find a dropdown box listing the songs I’ve recorded at the nursing home, complete with flubs and background noise.

Best regards,
Roger