Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 9

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

I guess I am at that stage in my life where I’m wondering, is this the FINAL stage of my life?

When I was a child, everything was magical. Up until age 10 or so, every problem, every question, every concern could be answered by mom of dad, usually mom. While I did not grow up in what some would call a privileged household — definitely not the top 1% in the nation as far as wealth is concerned — I never remember a time when we didn’t have everything we needed. Summer vacations always happened, usually for a week, sometimes two. In my pre-teen days, dad and mom would always get together with dad’s side of the family and we would “invade” cottages somewhere in the Upper Peninsula or in Ontario, usually somewhere north of Toronto. I can still find some of those small towns on the map.

As we got older and the adults became less adventurous and the youth got bored with going different places each summer, we had a number of years where we would got to a spot on Sugar Island, just east of Sioux Ste. Marie. We had to take a ferry boat across a short stretch of the St. Mary’s River, then drive about 20 miles to where the cottages were. It was isolated and quiet, but the fishing was usually pretty good and a lot of freighters would pass through that way for our viewing pleasure. Access to the Canadian side of the Soo was fun, too.

High school was a brief stage where there was always an end in sight: either the end of the week, the marking period, the semester, the school year and and the summer. Then repeat. Twice. (Back then, my high school was only a three-year stint. As ninth graders, we were the top of the heap in junior high.)

After that, you moved into the working stage of your life, though I took three months off in the spring and summer of 1972 to travel around Europe with my older brother John. Then I got back and worked some more, easing finally in the marriage stage, the parental stage and, eventually, the empty-nesters stage.

But now I’m retired and though I am working a bit here and a bit there, I don’t have the regular hours my wife does at the 35-hours-a-week position she took on when she retired from education five years ago. Wow, it’s been that long! She’s collecting a pension and a paycheck; I’m collecting a pension and Social Security, albeit a couple of years away from “full” benefits, and a check from time to time from the newspaper for which I still work once or twice a week.

Now what?

I don’t have to get up and go to work anymore, though I’m usually up on weekdays by about 8 a.m. to fix breakfast for my grandson who gets dropped off here and then I give him a ride to school. I do some stuff around the house — between visits to facebook and battles with acquaintances on Words With Friends — then I usually go out and run some errands or walk or whatever.

But the stress of getting up at the same time every day and going through the same routine, even though I loved my job and most of my coworkers, is gone. I probably don’t do as much around the house as my wife would like, but I’m not lazy, either. I record The Price Is Right to watch later in the evening as proof that I’m not “sitting around the house.”

I guess I’m at the stage of my life where, as my father once said, “I’m busier now that I’m retired than I was when I was working.” I’m not only finding time to do other things, I’m finding other things to do.

This is the time of life when I, as an older adult, have time to serve. I did eight shifts at ArtPrize 7, three more than I did last year, and I had a ball. I’m on a couple of “committees” at church that I wasn’t on last year. I’m doing yard work my wife doesn’t have time to do. And I’m helping people, like our 80-plus year old neighbor who is showing his age.

If these are the “golden years,” I’m liking them. I just hope they last a while.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 8

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


As I look back over the last two weeks of ArtPrize (I’m not as motivated to write everyday as I was the first couple of weeks), I will admit that nothing happened to top my “conversation” with the lady who claims to have seen aliens outside her apartment. But I’ve met a lot of other interesting people.

Let’s start with the most recent, then work our way back to the beginning.

On my final day of volunteering as a Wayfinder — a term I think would better describe our job is FindWayer — I was standing on the street corner just outside the HopCat bar. As her boyfriend/husband/partner went inside to check on possible reservations, young woman (mid-20s, maybe?) approached me to ask a couple of questions: that’s why we wear the “Ask Me” bibs, duh. She had with her a smallish dog on a leash, a cute little thing with light brown features on the face and head that blended into off white back toward the body. I asked her what type of dog he was and she told me he was a Rat Terrier, Shih Tzu mix named Ozzie. I mentioned how I thought that was an interesting mix and she pointed to her partner and told me that “he likes to call him a Rat Shit.” That was sort of like the joke when a bulldog mated with a Shih Tzu and the resulting mixed breed was called BullShit. He laughed; she looked confused. He explained. She laughed.

The day before I was asked to monitor the site where the eventual winner, a piece called “Whisper” was on display. Essentially, the art was a group of dinner tables placed end-to-end with many place settings occupying spaces on the tables. There were wires attached to the undersides of the tables and hooked up to a single microphone in the middle of the room. The object was to whisper into the microphone, which in turn would cause the tables to vibrate. But if you talked loudly or shouted, nothing would happen. The artist explained that even by whispering, our words had power and that power could be generated into sound waves which, in turn, would cause the tables to vibrate and shake the plates and glasses to the floor.

Viewers quickly learned that making the “P” sound into the microphone would be the best way to set the art work into motion and after a while, all the vibrations and subsequent crashes got really noisy. About an hour into my shift, I moved up to the third floor and asked a girl if she would like to change places; she said “sure.” So we did.

The third floor was quieter, what with all the pieces up there consisting mostly of twine, string and/or macramé and needlepoint. One piece I really liked contained 50 small — about 6 inches by 6 inches — needlepoint drawings titled “50 People I Love But Don’t Know.” They included Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, comic strip character Little Lulu, “an anonymous 3rd century musician, Hank Williams and Mr. Toad.

To generate some thought and conversation, I asked visitors:” “If you made this piece, give me at least five names or people you would include in your’s.” One gal’s choices really stood out; she picked President Lincoln, President Reagan, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Ghandi. Off the top of my head I came up with: my grandfather, who died four years before I was born on his birthday, Freddie Mercury (late lead singer for Queen) and Larry from the Three Stooges. Oh, and James Earl Jones and baseball player Ty Cobb. Is it odd that four of my five choices are dead?

I did one day at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum where six of the Top 20 public-voting finalists were located. One of them was NOT a large sculpture called “The Desecration of Christ.” It was interesting (again, look it up on the ArtPrize web page at .org), but I’m wondering if some of the people were turned off by the artist himself. He was from Iowa, which had nothing to do with it, but at one point he came over by me and another volunteer and complained that not a single person had voted for him in the last 30 minutes, “but they’re all taking my cards.” I tried to tell him that taking a card does not equal a vote and that he should be encouraged by the fact that so many people were stopping. I don’t think he was.

If I recall, I only voted for one piece and that was at the Catholic Diocese located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Division Avenue. Illy (my wife) and I spent a couple of hours “doing” ArtPrize on a Saturday afternoon and I think I voted for it more because it had colors that would match up with our living room décor more than the fact I liked the piece as an ArtPrize entry. We did meet one artist we liked who used pieces of rice paper to design little stick figures showing different fashions from different countries. She didn’t have anything representing Cuba, my wife’s birthplace, but she did point to a very dark stick figure from Columbia, suggesting “that’s pretty close, no?” Um, no.

So, ArtPrize is over, except for the shouting and I’m seriously considering entering again next year. A chat with an artist the other day who thanked moe for volunteering made me realize how much fun I had the two years I was in it. I believe if you go to the ArtPrize web page and do a search for my name, I’m still in the system. I didn’t enter to win, but I like to try to show off my creativity and my photography. I’ve got a couple of ideas. I might share them later. One of them involves tape-recording my farts and re-recording them on a continuous loop for continuous playback at the push of a button. Illy totally rejected that idea. We’ll see.

Hasta luego.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 7

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


I’m a people watcher, always have been, always will be. Maybe it’s from the days of my childhood when I was the youngest of six children and I always got stuck at the end of the table or at the end of the row. Or, worse yet, I was the one straddling the leg of that big old wooden picnic table. Yeah, you can relate.

As my wife about this. No longer do I have to remind her that when we got to a restaurant or the club that I have to be facing the door so I can see who’s coming and going. I don’t know why. Very seldom do we see people we know unless we’re show minimal creativity and go to Mc … no, Wendy’s or a local favorite, Russ’.

That’s why, after volunteering five or six times as a Wayfinder for the annual late-summer show in Grand Rapids called “ArtPrize,” I signed up again. But I’m not just going to be wearing that “Ask Me” vest that Wayfinders wear. One day I’m going to do hospitality at The Hub so I can ask people how they are doing and engage in conversation, and another day I’ve signed up for “Access Art.” THAT I’m going to have to look up so I don’t go in blind. For more information, go to artprize.org because I’m too lazy to try to explain it.

All this is leading to an experience I had on Thursday when I was asked to help out a guy named Tim in the Information Booth on one of the bridges in downtown Grand Rapids.

It all began rather harmlessly when this elderly woman with a walker asked: “You guys answer questions, right?” Of course, we answered “yes.” So she said, “Where can I get a wheelchair? I’m tired of walking.” Our booth was maybe a hundred yards from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so we suggested they might be able to help. Then she said something about not feeling like walking that far. Then she said something about “have you ever met someone who saw an alien?” Then I said something stupid like “no, but I saw a UFO once.” I heard Tim gasp. Then I saw this little lady lock the brakes on her walker, flop the seat down and say, “Let’s talk.”


She said her name was Mack. Or Mac. Not really sure, but I remember she was wearing a denim jacket, a funky hat (something like I’ve seen on Tim Conway during a Carol Burnett Show sketch), and she talked a lot. She told me how these aliens were floating just outside her third-floor apartment balcony, how they arrived their after floating out of the mist that surrounded a grove of pine trees nearby, how they stared at her for a couple of minutes, then slowy turned away and zipped back into the mist. There were three of them, Mack (or Mac) said. One appeared taller and she viewed him as “the leader.” One was a little shorter than the leader (the “follower?” I thought) and another was much shorter, perhaps an offspring. Mac (or Mack) and the aliens stared at each other for most of the time they hovered there. She said she didn’t dare make any sudden moves, like reaching for a camera (duh) for fear that they would either disappear forever (which they apparently have) or else they would shoot her in fear.

Mack (or Mac) pulled a postcard-sized piece of paper out of her purse, conveniently remembering that she drew a smaller scale image of the poster she drew of the aliens that is at her different apartment. Apparently she moved because she had issues with the landlord at the aliens’ apartment. I almost laughed out loud when Tim, the other guy who was with me in the information booth, let loose with a quiet, but audible snort. Mac (or Mack) described the photo to me, though I was quite capable myself of seeing what was on it. The background was a deep blue, “a blue I had never before seen,” my guest explained, and there appeared to be a sort of archway over the scene … like a rainbow, but without the colors. Then there were some shadowy figures in the foreground, dark, like silhouettes on a shade (I almost started humming a Herman’s Hermits tune here). She described their appearance to me, which was good because I really could not see on her picture what she was describing to me in her mind.

Then Mac (or Mack) realized it was getting close to 6 p.m. and she wanted to head over to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids because one of the local TV stations is broadcasting all of its news and local shows from there during our annual festival called ArtPrize. (Look it up, I’m still too lazy to describe it.) Seems Mack (Mac?) has the hots for Kyle Underwood, one of our local meterologists. When my new friend (Tim’s words, not mine) left, I quickly texted one of the female meterologists there that I know, telling her that if Kyle was on the set to “run fast and run far.” When I explained why, Ellen Bacca said, “Oh, if someone is going to bug Kyle, we’ll be happy to watch.”

Anyway, the rest of my ArtPrize day was uneventful — hell, what could top THAT? — and when my shift was over, I headed back to the volunteer lounge. Apparently, Tim was still entertained by what he had seen as he shared our story with everyone who was up there. Yes, there was comments and jokes about Mack/Mac and aliens; luckily, I’m easy to get along with.

Unfortunately, Mack stole 30 minutes of my time when I could have been helping people find their bearings in downtown Grand Rapids. Maybe on my death bed, the doctors will find an extra 30 minutes of oxygen for me before I die.

Oh, by the way, I told Mack if she DID enter her aliens’ poster in ArtPrize next year, I would vote for her. I said nothing about finding her and looking at it, but I did promise her a vote.

Now, if only I could find out what she had been smoking ………

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 5

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

When last I left you, I told you it was the weekend and you should expect nothing profound. I didn’t give you anything profound because I was tired from a very busy Thursday, which I never even mentioned.

I’ll skip all the acronyms and the names that go with them except for one. I boarded a bus with my wife and some other support staff and a whole bunch of disabled men and women for a trip from Grand Rapids to Lansing to gather at the Capitol building to celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA [see, an acronym]) and remind the Senate and the House members that funding must continue for this great program.

Oddly, the Capitol building is being renovated and a couple of the previous handicapped entrances were closed, forcing us to walk in through what could best be described as “basement” doors, which necessitate riding an elevator up to the second floor(s) to see the Senate chambers and the House chambers. I was along to be a P.A. (Personal Assistant) for a guy (not) named “Bill,” who, in the course of our conversations, informed me that he was 53 years old and very up-to-date on the current state of the Detroit Tigers. Don has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair; my task, other than to make sure he got from Point A to Point B, was to help him when he needed the bathroom. Unlike my guy “Sam,” who doesn’t have an issue when I hold the urinal cup for him to pee in, “Bill” had me lift him from his chair, help him drop trou and put him on the toilet. As I waited the first time for him to go, he looked up and said, “Could I have a little privacy?”

Of course, I gave it to him, so I stood outside the stall until I heard “OK, I’m done.” I didn’t make that same mistake the next two times. In face, because he’s about 100 pounds lighter than “Sam,” on our third trip to the john, I simply pushed his foot rests out of the way, wrapped my arms around his chest and lifted and moved him to the toilet.

Life continues to be a learning experience.


On Monday and Wednesday I was back to work with “Sam,” but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. He missed last week Wednesday with what he said was a cold, but he was still not his normal cheerful self this week Monday and Wednesday. About an hour before his class was scheduled to end, in fact, he tried calling his mom because of what he called “gastric issues.” Thank goodness he didn’t have to go No. 2 like he did at an earlier class. I don’t wanna do that again.


ArtPrize, an open competition for artists worldwide, began this week Wednesday in Grand Rapids. I entered the competition twice in the past five years mostly for fun, but now, especially since I’ve got more time, I’ve signed up to volunteer a number of times as a “Wayfinder,” one of those folks who wears an “ASK ME” bib. A couple of other times, I’m going to work in “The Hub,” a site whose title is self-explanatory, greeting people who walk in the door. It’s great fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, the other volunteers are quite awesome. Yes, it’s crowded in downtown Grand Rapids, but it’s a good thing.

This is year seven of ArtPrize and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: the Weekend

Don’t expect anything profound because my retirement weekends won’t be a lot different from the weekends when I was working, except my wife and I might take off for weekends away once in a while. And I’m STILL not going to waste my time watching the Detroit Lions or the NFL …. Not For Lee.

It’s still baseball season and college football is soooooo much more exciting.

Either way, thanks for stopping.


Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Day 4

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

My normal Friday, not unlike my normal Monday through Thursday, when I was still working, began with a 6:11 alarm that would get me through to 6:20 after a gentle push (yeah, right) of the snooze button. Ten minutes in the bathroom (hey, I’m not a morning person) got me into the kitchen by 6:30 where I would lollygag over breakfast, e-mails and facebook until about 7. Then I would get dressed and be on the road by 7:15, often with a stop for a soda or coffee on my way to work.

I would usually arrive by 7:30-ish, chat with my coworkers for a bit and the students would start coming in by 7:40-ish.

Like I said before, it’s not like I’ve been sleeping in until 9 or 10 every morning. Not this morning, either. One of our bedroom windows is directly above the gate that allows access to our backyard. Exactly at 7:30 we heard the familiar “click-squeak” of the handle being lifted and the gate being swung open. Even before I got to the slider opening up to our deck in the dining area, our granddaughter was knock-knock-knocking on the glass door. As I opened the door to let them in, she reminded me that younger brother had to be to his elementary school by 8:20, then she headed back to her mom’s car to be dropped off at the high school.

Since I got my “Sam” money and my wife got her regular paycheck, we had bills to pay; that never changes. But since I’m no longer working, the paycheck to which I have become accustomed for the past 17-plus years was NOT there. I’ll get my first pension check the same day my wife does, but it’s going to be missing a couple of hundred dollars because of health insurance premiums. And my first SS check won’t come until the third Wednesday of October, so we’re going to have to do a bit of belt-tightening until we get settled into a new routine.

I DO work as a “stringer” (independent contractor, per se) for a local newspaper and with high school having started I’ll be getting at least one football game a week. And with Grand Valley State University playing almost every other week at home, I’ve got that going for me, too. And the West Michigan Whitecaps, the team I talked about the other night, won tonight so they’re playing Saturday afternoon. Woo hoooo!

I did a high-school game Friday night, in fact. The team I was covering scored on its second play of the game so I was hoping for something good to write about. Unfortunately for them, they did not score again until the final minute of the fourth quarter and lost 31-13. So, I’ve seen three games and only one of our “area” teams won.

The only highlight of the evening was that we got to look at a rainbow from the pressbox for most of the first quarter. In the third quarter, a train came through on the rail line that runs right behind the pressbox. As I love trains so much — the home where I was born was directly across the street from a railyard — I had to step out for a couple of minutes to watch it go by. I waved. The engineer blew the whistle. The guy videotaping the game for the visiting team watched with me. It was a good night, except for my stop at a McDonald’s where I ordered a shake, then had to wait almost three minutes because no one seemed to know who was responsible for what. I guess that’s what happens when you have high-school kids working on weekends.

I stayed up too late playing “Words With Friends.” No reason to get up early Saturday.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Day 3

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

I was warned that I would not have problems staying busy, but no one said most of my busy-ness would not be of my doing. Take today, for example. When the phone rings at 10:45 a.m. — yes, I was up — that’s not always a good sign, especially when you’re not expecting any calls from the likes of a Sears serviceman or the guy who is remodeling your bathroom.

Granddaughter, age 14, a ninth-grader: “Grandpa, can you go to McDonald’s and get my some chicken nuggets, fries and a Sprite?” Grandpa: “Um, why?” Granddaughter: “I don’t have any money in my account yet and I’m hungry.”

Ah, yes, I forgot about this “School of Choice” thing and the fact that there’s a lot of paperwork involved. My boys have been out of school for so long, combined with the fact the my wife did all the dirty work when they were in school, that I forgot the tediousness of it.

There is a young couple we have befriended, partly because they were friends of our son and his wife who have since moved out west with a good job opportunity. I like them. They seem to be seeking direction and they’ve joined us at church a couple of times. One time I even brought her several bags of groceries when her mom found me on facebook and told me their fridge was empty. When I got over there with milk and eggs and other essentials, about all they had in the refrigerator was a can of pop and maybe two slices of cheese. I was amazed.

I’m letting them use our washer and dryer once a week as needed. Sort of reminds me of my college days when my wife was working full-time and I was going to school full-time. On Tuesdays, when I did not have morning classes, I would go to mom’s house and spend part of the day with her while doing my laundry. Pay it forward. It’s a good thing.

Anyway, I brought my granddaughter lunch, then had to go back a couple of hours later to pick her up, then had to go to an elementary school about 90 minutes after that to pick up her younger brother, my grandson (duh).

THEN about 90 minutes after that we had to go to pick up my wife from work because one of our sons, who is currently living with us, took my wife’s car to Lansing for a meeting with his new boss. Long story short, I had to scramble this morning to make some adjustments to some savings’ accounts in order to NOT have to pay an overdraft fee on my checking account. But when I picked up my wife, she handed me the check I was expecting for working with “Sam” because the guy who runs that program got an RTS (Return to Sender), but knew he was going to bump into my wife during the day. On the way home, we stopped at the bank to make doubly sure the account was OK, then decided to stop at a local Real Estate branch office for a “Customer Appreciation Meal” of fried chicked, baked beans, potato salad, baked beans, rolls, baked beans and ice cream. (Yes, I had three helpings of baked beans.)

I had singing practice at church tonight for Sunday’s service. The wife of one of our missionaries is playing for us as her husband is going to give the message, so we had an extended practice as we adjusted to each other’s styles. The only complaint: She slowed everything down soooooooo much, but we’ll probably adjust that on Sunday when our drummer shows up.

I sat in the car for about 10 minutes after I arrived home to listen to the playoff game involving the Whitecaps. They won. Yay. I get to go to another game Saturday.