Monthly Archives: April 2016

60? Really?

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This year I will hit what to me seems a significant milestone, a sexagenarian one. And as I approach my 60th birthday, I do so with a bit of trepidation as to what it will feel like. As I think back over all my years, each time I turned a new decade, it was a time of reflection back over the decade ending and a look forward at what might be in store for me in the next 10 years.

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My memories of when I turned 10 are not as clear as I’m sure they once were but I know of at least two thoughts I had looking beyond my single digit years. First, I looked forward to becoming a teenager since that was the second stage of maturation into adulthood. But even more significantly, I looked forward to turning 16 so that I could get my driver’s license and finally be able to drive a car!

In college, a little more respectable without the big wheels

My teenage years were pretty typical of most anyone: getting a driver’s license, getting my first part-time job, buying my first car, graduating from high school and entering college. But interestingly, by the time I turned 20, I remember thinking finally, I am no longer just a teenager—I’m a real adult!

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My 20s proved to be most fruitful advances in my adulthood. I graduated from college and graduate school, got my first and second real jobs, got married, and had two of our three children all before I turned 30.

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In fact not long after I turned 30, a popular television show began to air called “thirtysomething” that favorably portrayed life for a group of young professional baby-boomers in their 30s. It made being thirty-something “cool.” All through my 30s, I never considered myself old, just the right age. That is up until I was 39.

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Once I turned 39, I began to realize that I would be 40 on my next birthday and that was the first time I really began to think of myself as old. And as do many others at that age, I went through a midlife crisis before I turned 40 although unlike others, mine was automotive in nature. But once I actually turned 40, it wasn’t that big of a deal—almost anticlimactic. In fact, it was a most enjoyable decade and I happily experienced seeing our kids off to college and graduate school. It was the beginning of a relationship with our kids, adult to adult.

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The week I turned 50, my oldest son and daughter both graduated with their Master’s degrees. Although I recognized I had been alive for half a century, it too was a fun-filled decade and my wife and I became empty nesters during this time.

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Professionally though, life has been a bit tumultuous in my 50s having survived two company buy-outs in five years. But at the same time, it was a time when I really began to think about retiring and it was exciting to consider the opportunities I would have in retirement.

Late last year, I even reached that significant tax milestone age of 59 ½ when, according to IRS rules, you can technically retire and begin to draw from your tax deferred accounts without tax penalty. Although many years earlier, I had learned that retirement was not about age, but rather about money as the “Amway business plan” was presented to me, it was still nice to know that the nest egg that I had been contributing to for many decades was now officially available.

But now that I am about to turn 60, an age that one can conceivably retire early, I am thinking that is old. I’m sure part of my thoughts are influenced by the fact that both my parents died in their 70s.

So will I feel old when I turn 60? Or will my 60s be my new 50s? Only time will tell.

A few months ago, I told my wife that I was absolutely loving the years we were having and the experiences we were enjoying as we welcomed three new grandchildren into the world.

One thing for certain, I will celebrate this 60th milestone and start ticking off the years with each new adventure.

Glorious Spring

Now that March Madness is over, for me spring can begin. At least where I live, the conclusion of those three exciting weekends of college basketball always spells the end of the cold winter and the beginning of warmer weather. But even as I was glued to the television watching a buzzer beater or an overtime game, spring was springing.

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Quietly while I was indoors, plant growth was coming to life slowly pushing green shoots upward from the soil even as reminders of winter—dead leaves—were still lurking along the borders of our porch. Spring means flowers blooming, trees budding, and grass returning from the brown to lush green. But spring also means…

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…glorious top-down weather.

Unless you own a convertible, you cannot appreciate this additional benefit of warmer weather. But for those that do, you know exactly what I mean. The thrill of getting to drive and experience spring not just through your windshield, but everywhere you look with an unencumbered 360 degree view of nature waking from its hibernation all around you.

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And this year, I had an extra treat—access to two convertibles.

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Over the winter, my youngest son returned my 1994 white Miata in order to borrow another one of my cars, a hardtop, because he said it was too cold and no fun to drive a convertible in the winter (which I agree with and which is why I have my “summer car” and my “winter car”). Suddenly, I again had a varietal choice for my daily drive—red or white?

But beyond just a color choice, these two cars have different characteristics, not the least of which is their age difference.

For a 22 year-old car with nearly 150,000 miles, it is still a blast to drive. Sure it has its squeaks and rattles, not uncommon for a car into its third decade, and sounds that normally would drive me crazy. But the original Miata (known as M1 to Miata aficionados) has the most wonderful exhaust note that just has not been replicated in any of the subsequent models. (The first time my youngest son drove it; he asked me if I had put a performance exhaust system on it; no I replied, it’s stock.) So whenever the squeaks get on my nerves, all I have to do is punch the accelerator a little and the still peppy engine gives me an exhilarating boost of speed as it transmits that wonderful, satisfying sound through the muffler.

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And for days or weeks when the weather is not going to be so accommodating for top-down driving (i.e., cold or rainy), then my 2002 red M2 becomes my daily driver. Even with nearly 100,000 miles on it, it still has tight suspension and few rattles or squeaks. And with ABS brakes and a heated, rear glass window; it is more suitable for cold, rainy weather. And at the end of the workday, if the weather has improved, then I can drop the top for a fun drive home.

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But if where you are reading this, winter hasn’t ended yet and you are still awaiting the day when you can put the top down on your convertible (the day I took these springtime pictures, my brother who lives in the northeast, actually sent me a video of snow falling out his back window), I can but offer you these few images of spring in the south. Hopefully this will tide you over until the day you too can get out and do some long overdue glorious top-down driving.

Why am I Funny?

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Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am a funny guy. I’m not known as one who has a joke ready to tell at any time. Those individuals, and we all know at least one, have a unique talent being able to store and retrieve on demand many jokes at any time. I have a very limited repertoire of jokes, as I can’t remember them very well. So I’m not a comedian but I do have a quick wit. As soon as someone says something, my mind seems to jump into high gear to think of a funny comeback. And often I do. And when I do, I enjoy the laugh and I enjoy hearing others laugh too. But was I always funny?

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I was the third of four children in our family—the first son following two daughters. As an infant, I no doubt got a lot of attention from my sisters, four and six years older than me, as to them I was a “living doll” to dress up and play with. But that all changed a couple of years later when my younger brother came along supplanting me as the object of everyone’s attention.

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My mother used to tell the story of finding me in my brother’s crib, poised and ready to strike him with a pencil. (Many years later, I was most touched when my brother sent me a big brother birthday card with one of those little golf pencils inside and the comment “Thanks for letting me live.” I guess he had forgiven me.)

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No longer the “baby” of the family, I had to find other ways to get attention.

My mom also used to say that after she and Dad were married, she had to teach Dad how to laugh. Maybe I picked up some of my humorous streak from those lessons as well. As evidence of my early comedy, we have a home movie of us kids clowning around in the backyard and me crashing my pedal car into a big tree. At the time, I was less than four years old.

Throughout my adolescent years, I don’t know if I lost this humor or if it just went into hibernation. In high school and college, I remember myself being pretty serious, maybe because I had to spend so much time studying first as a science major in high school and then as a chemistry major in college and graduate school.

After I was married and started a family, I know I used to try to tell my kids funny stories. One I’m sure they will remember is the story of when two brothers named “Shut Up” and “Trouble” went to a circus and got separated from each other. Or maybe my kids will remember a simple one I used to tell: “If Sally Green married Bobby Bean, she would be Sally Green Bean.”

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Once I was out of graduate school and began my career as a professional analytical chemist, I seemed to have begun to develop my quick wit.

Starting out, I would sometimes make humorous comments at the expense of someone else to get people to laugh. Although never intending harm, these comments that essentially ridiculed or belittled the recipient weren’t always received well or appreciated. This feedback really hit home whenever my wife was the brunt of my humor and she verbally relayed to me how it was not appreciated.

While going through management training at work, I finally realized that this form of my humor had gotten out of hand when I was described by a colleague as having an “unexpected, wicked sense of humor.” I could only continue this course if I was the sole recipient of this humor, which I did to a degree but it warranted a new approach.

Maybe it was a conscious suppression of my facetious gene and the development of my comical gene. But over time, I developed a new form of humor, one that did not belittle or ridicule someone. And as with the exercise of any muscle, it became stronger and stronger.

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In work meetings, I often make a joke to bring some lightness to the seriousness of whatever topic we happen to be discussing. And teaching has given me a chance to develop this form of humor as well. Originally, I would start with a funny line or story to help relax prior to my presentation. Now that I’ve given well over a 100 lectures, it just comes naturally, no longer needed as a relaxer but just as a way of starting out and setting the stage for my audience to have a little fun.

So the next time you happen to be around me, you won’t have to worry that my humor will be directed at you. Rather, it will be an unexpected reply to almost any comment that will likely get you to laugh. And then we can laugh together. Everyone has his or her own unique laugh, almost as a second language. My daughter has described my laugh as one of her favorite sounds in the world. So let’s get together and share a laugh—I’ll provide the unexpected comment and then we can both share in the fun.

Little Black Book

Not long ago I wrote about the “Black Book my parents wrote of their life together for us kids. I stressed in that post how this Black Book was not one of those little black books that men used to carry with them containing the names and phone numbers of women they knew. But recently, I ran across this little black book of my dad’s.

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This little book, rather than being one of those ubiquitous ones for scheduling nefarious assignations, is actually a small pocket calendar—from 1999.

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My dad used to record his daily activities in a desktop calendar book that I gave him each year for his birthday. But until I found this book, I had completely forgotten that Dad also used to carry these little calendar books in his left breast pocket for writing down dates or remembering dates. As I ran my hands over its crinkled, black leather cover, I began to recall so many images of my dad reaching into his pocket to take it out. I sniffed it to see if it still had the scent of him since it would have been next to him all of his waking hours but after 15 years, there was no fragrance left.

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As I started flipping through the pages, I remembered this was also where Dad used to record people’s addresses and telephone numbers.

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As I thumbed through the calendar pages, I began to see some of the events he recorded. There were appointments to get his hair cut, church meetings, and relative’s birthdays with their age noted on that date, no doubt so that he would remember to call them to wish them a happy birthday. And there were numerous early morning appointments to fish with his friend “Bud”, a life long leisure activity of my Dad’s.

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Sadly, this particular calendar book also chronicled the cancellation of my parent’s annual trip to the Austin Seminary Lecture series where they were to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary (The family anniversary celebration had occurred the previous August in Montreat, NC). The reason for the cancellation of this trip was my mom’s hospitalization and surgery; a malady that ultimately led to her death also documented a few pages over in the calendar book.

When I got to July, I found that Dad had scheduled hernia surgery, something that I too have had to get repaired recently. I seemed to recall that Dad had this surgery but when I was scheduling my own surgery, I couldn’t recall for sure. This page confirmed it.

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In the back of the book, I came across page after page of hand written addresses. As I read through them all, I remembered the names of friends I had heard my parent’s talk about over the years, but names that I had not thought of in many years. Since each little book only covered one calendar year, I realized one of Dad’s annual activities was to transfer by hand each number from his old book to his new book.

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Not that I was necessarily trying to be like my dad, but recently I got my own version of a little black book, albeit an upgrade to my cell phone.

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This more modern version not only contains a multi-year calendar but also stores all the names and addresses that never have to transcribed year to year from one book to another and can also hold a multitude of photos that men used to carry in their wallets. For this modern version is in fact a miniature computer that in addition to storing significant volumes of data, can be used to search anything on the internet.

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I wonder if my dad had lived long enough if he would ever have converted from his paper pocket calendar book to a digital one. My dad did have a cell phone but never obtained a smart phone. But after over 50 years of carrying these small books in his shirt pocket, it might have been too much to break that long held tradition. And in the end, it’s best he didn’t convert because I now have this hand-written heirloom to treasure for many years to come.