Saturday, December 1, 2018

Don't Just Look At What. Look At Why. More On Transitioning

One of the interesting things about having transitioned into a life where work is still a component but not the major component is the difficulty others have in conceptualizing what you are and what you are doing.

The issue comes because when you work (or at least when I work), I am fully engaged in that work. It really is not any different than when I worked full-time. So the people who are still working full-time conceptualize you in that way. But then one (me) goes off for weeks at a time traveling. How do these same work acquaintances conceptualize that? Well they do it by fitting it into a box that is recognizable. They say, "You went on vacation."

Except I don't conceptualize myself as "going on vacation". For one thing 'vacation' implies, 'escape', 'getting away', not working, recharging, etc. None of those things really apply to my travel life. I am not 'escaping work'. I work because I like to when I am not traveling and it funds my travel. I am not 'getting away' from work. I frequently work when I travel via phone calls and emails and I find that totally fine even stimulating. Travel the way we do it is very demanding in its own right, so I can't say I'm 'recharging' to go back to work. Though I will admit that I come back from our trips feeling very sharp and acute.

In my own mind, there really isn't a whole lot of difference between when I'm at home and mostly working and partially traveling (planning), or when I am gone and am mostly traveling and doing some work. It is just my life.

So I got to thinking, why is that? Why do I feel like these really aren't all that different when others see them as so very different. I started to look at the reasons why I like these two components of my transitioned life so much.

What do I like about the way we travel?
  • We explore and constantly get exposed to new things
  • I get to do all kinds of planning
  • We meet all kinds of interesting people
  • I am put in a position where we need to problem solve and get positive feedback from successfully doing that
  • I am constantly learning
  • I feel that I am continuing to grow
So what is it that I like about the work I continue to do?
  • I constantly get exposed to new things
  • I get to do all kinds of planning
  • I meet all kinds of interesting people
  • I am put in a position where I need to problem solve and get positive feedback from successfully doing that
  • I am constantly learning
  • I feel that I am continuing to grow
When I looked at it that way, it was this AHA moment. Or maybe I should say DUH moment lol. No wonder I don't feel there is a great difference. From the standpoint of why I like to do these, they are the same. It's just that one creates money and the other uses money.

So as you consider how you might be transitioning, keep in mind it's not what you what you think you want to do, it is why you want to do it.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving Week Postmortem

For some reason this year I was filled with motivation to try a number of new things with traditional Thanksgiving meal. We didn't think we'd have anyone visiting but it turned out that our friends B and M who mostly reside in San Miguel Allende Mexico were going to be back in town and had no plans so we invited them. I actually asked them if they minded if I experimented with the turkey and they said they were happy just to have the companionship. I took that as complete permission to go crazy (not really). So here is a run down of the week in not any particular sense of order

Imitation Liquor?
I was stocking up with alcohol for the proceedings and was checking out of our local booze superstore and I saw this at the checkout counter. The first thing that hit me was that they made an alcohol flavored like Stroopwafel. Long time readers and family members who live in Amsterdam of course recognize this cookie like treat. But as an alcohol flavor? Then I noticed the worlds 'Imitation Liquor'.  Is that like faux alcohol? Or that the flavoring is imitation? I chose not to buy it and find out.

Successful Experiments

My biggest experiment involved the turkey. As I am sure you are well aware of, cooking whole turkey is a bitch because the white and dark meat cook to different temperatures to be at their best. So if you cook the white meat to perfection, the dark is not cooked enough and if you cook the dark to perfection, the white is dry and overcooked. 

A classic way of resolving this is to cook them separate. For the small group we had, it would have made sense to by a whole turkey breast and a couple of leg quarters. HOWEVER, I have found over decades of experimenting that stuffing (cooked in the bird) is far superior to dressing (cooked in a pan). So that meant buying a whole bird and taking the legs off. I was a bit worried that by doing that my remaining carcass would have lost structural integrity. 

Fortunately that was not the case. Since it was a small bird to begin with, I was able to brine the leg/thigh pieces in only a few hours and the remaining carcass for 8 hours. This meant getting this whole process done the day before. I just wrapped the carcass in foil and refrigerated it until the morning.  I then on Wed, braised the turkey leg pieces in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes, with the intent of finishing them in the oven.
Pieces ready to be brined
My now standard brine mixture (I use this for all my smoking)
Salt, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cumin powder and coriander powder
I've found mixing these with an immersion blender keeps the flavorings dissolved in the water better
Turkey legs after braising
Love my pressure cooker!

The turkey carcass was totally able to hold the stuffing. I used half a package which was just enough for the small bird and did not leave many leftovers. I was about to take on the unpleasant task of sewing up (trussing) the bird when I had an idea so brilliant it even amazed me (and de-I is so accustomed to his own brilliance that that is not easy!). Why not just use wooden kebab skewers to hold the the whole thing in place. Presto chango in just minutes I had the whole thing done.
Post cooking, amputated bird tightly held by skewers giving it a nice 21st century punk look to it (or maybe a Christian Martyr look?)
The white meat was perfect and the legs finished off with the skin crisping nicely

Since I was on a roll with successful experimentation, I decided to do something else. I had everything cooked ahead of time. I had the turkey done hours before meal time so I had lots of time to carve it all up. Then in another stroke of brilliance I put turkey stock over all the sliced meat to ensure it stayed moist. Then the entire dinner went into a warming oven. Once our friends arrived, we were able to just socialize with them. When we were ready, we pulled all the food out and ate.

One last successful experiment involved the sweet potatoes. I have never liked the candied sweet potato dishes. I have always enjoyed a plain baked sweet potato. So I baked mine and took the meat out and mashed it. They came out naturally very sweet.

Failed Experiment

Alas not everything went as hoped. Inspired by our recent trip to New Orleans, I wanted to make my gravy with a real Louisiana style dark roux. I'd gotten instructions there (cook the time it takes to finish two beers) and looked on line for more advice. I stood there for around 40 minutes stirring away working on the concoction. 
It really had the look of that authentic dark chocolate roux
Sadly when I made my gravy on Thursday with it, it turned out I had burnt it!!!!!!
Fortunately, I had plenty of stock, whipped up a more traditional short cooked roux and had acceptable gravy. 
However, I will be back to try getting this right again.

My Mother always used to make Turkey Tetrazzini which is basically pasta with a stock/cream sauce and the left over turkey. I hadn't done it in as long as I could remember. But after breaking the turkey down, making stock and freezing stuff, I had lots of small pieces left over so I made that for our Sunday dinner
Turned out great and brought back all kinds of memories

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Transition Update - Reconciling To The Physical

2018 is drawing to a close. We have finished our experiment in the unplanned driving trip. We have a very busy first half of 2019 with many different kinds of travel experiences in store. As is always the case after one of our trips, I have the hardest time getting back into a blogging rhythm.

During the road trip as we dealt with a variety of challenges, I took stock as I often do of where I was in this transition process. There was a time not too long ago where I felt that I had finally reached an equilibrium, that the process of evolving from the state known as 'full-time working' to the 'not sure what I call it, post full-time working, semi-retired, transitioned' space was complete. This was in large part because of the beautiful balance in terms of enjoyment and time developed between what is left of work and travel.

But this year has brought on a new player that has cried out to be fully included in the transition process calculation - physical deterioration. It is not that this is really a new player. In fact I think physical deterioration issues were much more a problem in my 50's and 60's than they are now. I've managed to reduce the ill effects of a number of them. But this last trip really screamed out to Wife and I that it is going to be harder and harder for us to travel the way we want or for that matter do things at home the way we want.

However, I will also say that from a mental standpoint this realization is much less traumatic than were the issues of my 50's and 60's. Why is that? I think it is that I have accepted deterioration as a fact of life (which I did not when I was younger) and that both physically and mentally I just deal with it. This takes form in a couple of ways.

One is an acceptance of pain as a fact of life. I used to use all kinds of pain-killers to try and deal with the pain of my various ailments. I have substituted a number of homeopathic remedies that have certainly brought some relief. But in large part, I just accept that the pain is there. It is the same with my tinnitus - ringing in my ears - it's just there. No need to get upset. It just is. Same with reflux and a number of other issues.

The second is a realization that accommodation has now become habitual. When I get in our out of a car, I do it in a way that does not aggravate various joint and muscle issues. I don't even think about it. I just do it. And there are examples of this all through my daily life.

Now one might say, "This is really depressing." I look at if different. I say it is a means of accepting reality in a manner that allows me to continue to do as much of what I love to do. And I look forward to continuing to adjust and adapt to the reality of aging in the same way.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Last Of Color

Our weather finally is dipping into freezing
As the days run pell mell to their shortest length
The trees are giving up the ghost and their leaves fall 
To leave the empty bones of their branches 
That can only echo the glory of their green exuberance
To come when the seasons turn again

The last pictures of our Autumn color

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Road Trip 2018 - Return Of Navel Gazing II, Reflections

This trip represented yet another step on the road of travel experience experimentation. And there were plenty of firsts for us.

 It was our first long trip within our own country. Sure we’ve gone to plenty of places in the US. Mostly we’ve gone to a specific region, locale or place to see it and then returned. On very rare occasions we made a decision to explore a particular area or route. But never for any great length of time.

It was the first time that we traveled extensively without a detailed itinerary and accommodation reservations ahead of time. (Well maybe second – on our trip to New Zealand while we had a general itinerary we were making reservations for where we would end up for the most part the night before.)

And it was the second time (New Zealand again the first), that we were in an automobile exclusively for transportation with no fixed base. (We have had numerous trips where we used a car predominately but usually were staying in one place for two, three, or four weeks).

So here are some observations and learning from the trip.

Driving is not relaxing – One reason for having selected this type of trip is we’ve been feeling the strain, the wear and tear, on our systems from the trips of the last two years where we’ve gone to a number of countries involving various trips by various non-driving transportation. We theorized that the freedom of our own vehicle (a vehicle we knew unlike a rental car) would make the process of getting around less hard on our bodies and less stressful. Wrong!

Instead what we found was that being in car so much was really hard on our bodies. And the stress was more. Yes you didn’t have to deal with all the issues of the public transportation systems. But you also never had any down time. You were either driving and having to pay attention. Or you were a passenger and often having to help keep the driver alert and helping them navigate.

Would I freak out not having any kind of plan? NO! – Hats off to Commander Spouse (inactive). It was actually great fun to have the freedom to change our itinerary and we do so numerous times based conditions (the hurricane), interests (staying in numerous towns extra time to catch all we wanted to see – adding cities once we decided getting to as many State Capitols was now a goal), changing interests (skipping things we got tired of like going into Nashville rather than spend two days seeing little towns in Tennessee), and physical condition (taking a longer time to get back so we wouldn’t have a couple of long trips).

Since we hadn’t done a whole lot of planning – at least I hadn’t, CS had done her own research – we hadn’t really discussed at all how we were actually going to execute this type of travel. So naturally we both had expectations that were not communicated leading to misunderstandings. But as the month went on we were able to observe what where the misunderstandings were, discuss them and come to some compromises and mutual understanding. Of course being the mature adults that we are, there were no loss of tempers, no one getting upset. Everything was done calmly and rationally because that’s the kind of Elder Fleet Command professionals we are.

A road trip of this nature would save money – compared to international travel, absolutely. Since we lease our vehicles (and are way below our allowed mileage) other than gas, we are already absorbing the cost of transportation without the travel. On all other expenses we were right on budget. The net result was a cost for the month that was a good 40-60% less expensive than the lowest one country trip to Europe or Asia would have been.

Amazed at the diversity in my own country – I am not talking about the stereotyped differences between regions that get bandied about. I am talking about the rich historical threads that can be found from state to state and even within states. I don’t think I will ever lump together an area – whether it be the ‘Deep South’, the ‘Midwest’, the ‘Northeast’ – again in my own mind. Now I visualize the country as this complex painting, like the Renaissance paintings I am so fond of with the multitude of stories within stories.

And we found such interesting interactions and things in such unexpected places. For example:

  • Talking to the shrimp boat operators in Pass Christian Mississippi
  • The guy who ran the ‘micro-museum in the Eastern Tennessee mountains whose family had been there for 150 years
  • The crazy ‘English’ style mansion in Pikesville, Tennessee
  • Historic Little Rock Museum where we spent three hours, didn’t get close to seeing all we wanted because we were exhausted and needed to get going, all for a cost of $1.50 each (with our Senior discount)
  • The wild history Guthrie Oklahoma and evidence of a town built overnight
  • CS’ cousins and family and their deep introspection related to their Native American blood that they are now aware of and how they looked at history now 
Seeing the Deep South in a whole different light – Going to this part of the country as a traveler looking for history is going ground zero of events that have had such a profound influence on modern racial relations – whether black/white or Native American/white. It is also the area where the Civil War was battled one. It was the battlefield. Remembering we were there for only a short period of time and that were tourists, not getting into depth as to actual day-to-day life, the overwhelming impression I got was of an area that was in profound reflection. Not coming to conclusions or having reached a consensus. Certainly with differences of opinion. But at least on the official level of what was being presented in museums and capitols organized by the states themselves, there was an amazing amount of candor about the past. And this is from the governments of states that are hardly classified as liberal. When we got back and I talked to a number of people who hail from what I will call the effete, arrogant coasts, I was rather shocked by a general reaction of “Oh how horrible to go to such a place. We would never go to the South.” To tell you the truth I was stunned.

In conclusion while we are going to have to make some adjustments in how we do this type of travel to reduce the wear and tear it induces, I think both Wife and I feel this is an important augmentation to our travel repertoire and are both excited to continue exploring the US as well as the world.

We are so blessed.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Road Trip 2018 - The Return Of Navel Gazing, Likes/Dislkies Overview

What trip of de-I and the Eldership would be complete without the complete analysis of what has transpired. All kidding aside, as this blog is as much a diary and reservoir of our experiences, these analyses help us to remember the experiences, serve as guides for how we want to revise our travel in the future, remind us of the lessons we've learned and serve as solemn testimony to our continual ignoring of the lessons we've learned.

This was our first ever extensive road trip in the U.S. We have had a car for the entire time for a few long trips in France and Italy. But we've only done one long trip (New Zealand, three weeks) where the auto was the primary means of transportation and where we did not book most of our accommodations in advance. We'd debated about how long to make the trip. I wanted to get back earlier for work purposes. In the event, we were totally ready to be home when the time came.

Here's the list of what we liked and disliked

High Points
  • Louisiana - the whole feel of the Creole culture as something different than what you find in the rest of the country, the food, the architecture. Particular high points were the Old State Capitol and Algiers Point
  • The Mississippi Gulf Coast - We loved that it was part of the Creole sphere of cultural influence and that in October the shore was so pristine and free of people. All kinds of neat interactions with people as well.
  • State Capitols Jackson in Mississippi and Montgomery in Alabama - we loved the cityscapes and the architecture, had some great, meaningful people experiences and of course our incredibly uplifting, spirit renewing experience with Aroine Irby
  • The Hunter Museum of Art and Walnut Bridge in Chattanooga - Another place that got our photographic juices flowing and such interesting art to boot
  • Nashville's cityscape - the last thing I expected in Nashville was the juxtaposition of impressive modern architecture with classic buildings. Another fun day with the camera. And the Tennessee State Museum was one of many in our trip that was well done, balance, and motivating of deep contemplation about our history and making peace with it
  • Little Rock - So funny, I swear we were the only tourists in town but there was enough there that we added a day. The Historic Little Rock museum was yet another of the great and sobering ones we saw
  • Guthrie Oklahoma - We were there to see Wife's cousins. But Bill, Cousin G's husband turned into the most gracious and knowledgeable host and turned our walk into a mini-tour of this fascinating small town. Then there was the conversation among the cousins and husbands about their having Cherokee blood and their own starting to deal with the question of the treatment of Native Americans historically, the Trail of Tears, and the Oklahoma Land Rush
  • Driving U.S. and State Highways - For a lot of our trip we were able to stay off of the Interstate highway system. For the most part we found (at least in this part of the country) that we could travel speeds close to those of the Interstate, with less traffic and with much more to see
Lower Points
  • Texas Urban Drivers - let's be more specific, male drivers in this area who have super large pick-up trucks, who drive at super fast speeds and ride your ass even when you are driving well over the speed limit. So obnoxious and honestly behavior we did not see with anywhere near the frequency that we experienced in the Austin/San Antonio/Houston urban area
  • Texas Hill Country - too touristy 
  • The New Orleans Trolley - if you are going to have a mass transit system, don't recreate a historic relic that functions unreliably
  • The depression of Selma - so discouraging when you find a place that seems locked in the same conflict of 60 years ago
  • The Appalachians and Great Smokey National Park - okay I plead guilty to being a jaded resident of the Western Mountain States. I'm sorry, but when you are surrounded by some of the most incredible mountain scenery in the world, it is hard to get pumped by the East. And the pain of driving in the National Park with so many people, outweighed any charm
  • Driving the Interstates - The Interstate Highway system is certainly efficient but the amount of traffic, especially truck traffic, means constant vigilance and they are all pretty boring 
  • Food other than Louisiana and Gulf Coast Mississippi - to be honest I had hoped for more from the Deep South. But for the most part our meals were nothing to write home about
  • Hotel and Airbnb Inconsistencies - we definitely are not going the cheapest though we are not going luxury either. But there was never a place that had its act 100% together. Sometimes it was little annoying things like a nice place where the sheets wouldn't stay on. Or lack of light blocking curtains. Or worn/dirty carpets. But most annoying was the high frequency of lousy hotel internet. Why in the U.S. hotels cheap out on internet in a day and age when connectivity is so important is a mystery to me
Next post - Observations and Lessons

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Still Life

Something to hold you over until I get the great Navel Gazing posts done tomorrow.

Wife (yes she has handed in her commission as Commander of the least until our next adventure) with the first real cold weather here in the offing brought in all of the roses that were still blooming. She was out an I saw these on our kitchen counter and a was filled with the spirit of the Great Photographic Mother (sometimes also called Wife) and ran upstairs to get my camera.

No running water was killed, used, or maimed in the course of making these photos.