Thursday, September 12, 2013


One of the consequences of living in  the country is that neighbors are spread pretty thin.  Human neighbors especially.  Any kind of gathering is turned into a social occasion, whether it be a funeral, elections held in the fellowship hall of the local church, or a work day at church to do some cleaning and maintenance.  My mother-in-law once complained about the narrow county roads in the area, asking, “What do you do if you should meet someone while driving?”  The reply was you slow down, wave, and if you are acquainted, stop and visit in the middle of the road.  No opportunity to enjoy human contact is lightly passed up.

Even taking advantage of those times, humans are not to be seen often.  I found when I was driving back and forth to work on a daily basis, there were other chances to make acquaintances.  Taking the same path, at about the same time each day, started to reveal some patterns.

These two lived about 2 miles from our house, hanging out with a large herd of goats and the occasional cow & calf.  Most afternoons, they would be grazing along the fence which faced the narrow road, and I came to miss them if they weren’t.  Then my Lovely Bride discovered them on her travels to & from town, and made a point of looking for them.  Once they realized she was infatuated with donkeys, and routinely carried plain granola bars in her car just in case she happened to meet a hungry donkey along the way, they started looking for her!  She would slow as she approached their pasture, and then stop at the same place each day.  If they weren’t already waiting, they would usually come at a trot when they heard her car.  Ears would be scratched, noses rubbed, and granola bars consumed.  Fingers might be nibbled if someone wasn’t careful.  

 Donkeys were lightly spoiled, workplace stresses forgotten, and the last bit of the homeward drive was a time to reflect on how lucky we are to live where we can enjoy God’s creation and his creatures.

Monday, September 9, 2013


At the age of 13 I went to work at my first "real" job, pumping gas in a station in the small Texas town where I grew up.  By real, I mean the first job where I was actually paid, as opposed to the free "child labor" on our small & struggling family farm.  Growing up in the country provided me with a multitude of advantages, none of which I recognized until many years later.  I fed cows, pigs and chickens; picked up eggs, washed and candled them using the rudimentary machinery available; pulled weeds from the garden; mowed grass; and hauled hay in the summertime as well as anything else that needed doing.  Only having to pump gas, clean windshields, air up tires, and check oil levels for an 8 hour stretch seemed like a vacation by comparison.  And I got paid $5.00 a day! 

Fast forward 47 years, and the attraction of full time employment was beginning to wane.  Forty one of those years were spent in the Operating Room in one role or another, 37 as a Registered Nurse, and the last 27 in administrative roles.  Many exciting changes occurred during that time, and it was always thrilling to be an active participant in many of those almost miraculous advances.

Many other changes, not nearly as uplifting, were being forced upon the entire healthcare field by more stringent government regulations and changes in reimbursement by the government as well as insurance companies.  In an effort to successfully cope with these changes, hospital administrations began austerity campaigns, stressing the more efficient provision of care with decreasing staff resources.  Anything that might affect the corporate bottom line was(and is) scrutinized to see if it can be done cheaper by fewer people.  Entire departments have been eliminated, with their functions being outsourced, transferred to other departments, or eliminated entirely.  Last year's productivity study could result in this year's firings, without regard to current workload and staff requirements.

This unsettled environment, with the physical stress of trying to do more work with fewer trained bodies, along with the mental and emotional stress of never knowing what might happen next, led me to decide that it was time for me to seriously consider retirement.  There were many unknowns.  Would I be able to adjust to not going to a job after a lifetime of working full time?  Would I habitually awake early each morning as I had done for decades?  Would I be able to financially afford retirement?  Would my Lovely Bride grow tired of me being under foot all the time, and try to suffocate me in my sleep? 

As I thought of retirement, I considered other factors.  I have known many people over the years who worked diligently, saving and preparing for their retirement so they would be able to enjoy their "golden years".  Sadly, many times those dreams of traveling, fishing or maybe just enjoying their grand children were disrupted when they or their spouse became ill or suffered some physical calamity.  One or the other became unable to do those things they had hoped for and worked toward for so many years.  Rather than working as long as physically possible, would we be better served by consciously choosing to retire earlier, planning to exist on a smaller income, but able to spend more time together  doing those things we had dreamed of?

After pondering these questions for several months, I decided I needed to break away from work.  On February 1st, I embarked upon a new stage in my life as a retiree.  Whether or not it will actually "take", remains to be seen. 

So far, I haven't missed working at all.  I discovered I have no problem sleeping until after the sun comes up.  Unfortunately, I still don't know for sure if I can afford to be retired, but I'm sure trying to make it work.  Oh yeah, and my Lovely Bride may sometimes wish I would find something to do outside of the house, but she seems to feel my being underfoot is a fair price to pay for the alteration in my stress level and my mellower attitude.

Re-Exploring Austin

(This was begun several years ago, and has been sitting in my computer, just waiting.)

That Monday dawned gray and dreary. The only point in its favor was that it was a holiday, and for once I didn't have to go to work. The Lovely Bride, however, did have to go in and feed her 400 second and third graders, so I struck out on my own for the day.

I have a niece who had just moved to Austin after having spent the past couple of years in Houston, San Antonio and Panama. For the moment she was without a vehicle, so I gave her a call to see if she was interested in tagging along while I ran some errands. With a day off from school, she agreed to supervise as I shopped. Shopping is probably not the most accurate word to describe what I had planned.  I don't mind buying things, but aimlessly wandering through retail venues has to be one of my least favorite activities.  That day, I knew what I wanted...a new pair of boots. Tony Lama ropers in a light brown known as Aztec.  Nothing exotic, no ostrich or elephant or spotted porcupine hides...just plain leather boots.  I even had the model number!

We headed south on Congress Avenue, passing some of Austin's iconic landmarks, and pulled up at Allen's Boots.  One of those businesses which seemed to have been around forever, it is a multi-sensory shopping experience. Row upon row of closely packed boots allow the shopper for manly-footwear to see, feel and smell the aroma of tanned leather while deciding exactly how pointy the toe can be and still be wearable. I tried to remain focused on my quarry while easing down the cave-like aisles. Alas, 'twas not to be. I located the correct brand, size and model, but the perfect color just wasn't there. A nice young man offered to have them ordered and delivered directly to me, but I still have a reluctance to spend hundreds of dollars on footwear without trying them on. We retreated to the pickup, only picking up a couple of pairs of Wranglers on our way out.

Moving south on Congress, we discussed our options, passing such familiar dining venues as the Magnolia Cafe and Hill's. We reversed course and moved toward the north side of Austin so my niece could show me where she attends the Texas Culinary Academy. Like so many young people today, she managed to acquire a formal education without simultaneously finding a direction for her life. Now she is working on developing a passion she has for baking, into a livelihood. 

We cruised the backstreets of Austin, checking out 6th Street and some of the city's other scenic hotspots as we progressed northward.  I pointed out places which were still familiar to me from 35 years ago, and some which have changed location, such as the Frisco.  Fortunately, I managed to successfully complete my quest, finding the correct boots in a store on Burnet Road as we headed north.  Then with no particular destination, we visited my niece's cooking school, passing some of the more recent growth on the north side including some of the newest(and priciest) shopping spots before stopping for lunch.  With full bellies, it was back on the road, this time taking the Capitol Of Texas Highway from the Arboretum all the way back down to Congress Avenue. 

My lazy day of driving the streets reinforced the idea that the Austin of old is still there, although it is sometimes hidden by the glare of the new.  Push aside the glitz, and those qualities which made Austin an interesting place to visit or live in 1975, can still be found.