Monthly Archives: October 2016

I’m Retiring!

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If all goes according to plan, in just about a year, I will be retired. However, as I heard someone say recently in a webinar I was listening to, I say “Retired” with air quotes because for me, retiring will just mean no longer working full time. I still plan on teaching the analytical course I have taught for almost 20 years as well as teaching the new stability course I started in 2015. And as the opportunity presents itself, I will also do some consulting work.

The reason I plan to “retire” in this manner is because I have been blessed throughout my career to enjoy my work. And early in my career when I was still working in the laboratory, I absolutely loved my job and looked forward to going to work every day. This was when work was play for me. I was doing hands-on HPLC work and considered myself a “micro plumber.”

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But even when I moved into management, I still enjoyed many aspects of my job. Often there would be problems to solve that required creative analytical thinking. Or I would have to develop a detailed plan to accomplish some task and being a detail-oriented person, this was right up my alley. Over my career, governmental regulations continued to change and in my position, I was the one responsible for developing and implementing policy to meet the changing regulatory environment. In this regard, I was often my own boss in defining what had to be done and when.

It wasn’t until later in my career that I began to have to perform certain tasks that I absolutely loathed, performance management, annual goal setting, and employee ratings distribution being at the top of that list. Fortunately, these were only once or twice a year activities rather than daily tasks. These last tasks I will definitely not miss when I retire.

So overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my 30+ year career in the pharmaceutical industry and plan to stay active in it since I really enjoy the teaching aspect and working to help others to solve problems.

So beyond my teaching and possible consulting, what will I do when I retire?

Well I know the first morning I wake up and do not drive to work will likely just seem like a weekend day no matter what day of the week it is since while working full time, the weekend was always the time when I had a number of things on my To Do list that I had to accomplish. After three or four days of this, it may begin to seem like a “staycation” but once I am into my second week without going to work, then I think it will really hit me that “I am retired.”

So being a habitual list maker, here is the start of my retirement activity list. I suspect I will add even more ideas as time goes on. But this is at least a start.

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Travel – Not since I was a preschooler have I had unlimited vacation time. Admittedly being able to travel is not just about having the time, there is the money required as well. But working full time for over 35 years, there have been numerous times when I could not travel because I simply did not have the vacation time to take off. With extra tine, at least half of that travel equation will be resolved.

So where will my wife and I go first? Well we have almost a year to figure that out. But I suspect it will be someplace we have never been before. Because in spite of all our past travels, there is still a world of places out there we can explore that will be new to us.

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Spend Time with Kids/Grandkids – No doubt some of that travel will be to visit our kids and grandchildren. Two of our kids and grandchildren live a long way away and so we don’t get to visit with them as much as our in-town son and granddaughter. Our trips out west in the past have some times been limited by the cost of airfare. But with unlimited vacation time (at least for me), we could drive if we wanted to. On the way, this would also give us a chance to visit some places we have never been before.

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Road Trips – Driving out west might seem like a road trip but for me, a road trip is when I drive by car specifically to experience a fun road, The Tale of the Dragon (US 129) is at the top of that list and I have driven it multiple times.

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Another fun road that I have driven just for the experience of driving it was the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When I retire, I want to find some other fun roads in the US that I can drive to and experience.

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Reading – Reading more is definitely a high priority on my list. I look forward to seeing how many books I can put on my year’s reading list when I have all the time I want to read.

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Outdoor Projects – Projects that would normally take multiple weekends to complete oftentimes went undone while I was working full time. Rebuilding the garbage blind is one of those that I have written about before that is still waiting for me.

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Even the steps I built from a walkway to our deck fell into disrepair this year and are in need of a rebuild.

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Photography – With extra time available, I plan to pursue taking more photos. I have a very nice digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera that I haven’t used in many years because it has been easier to use my iPhone or my point and shoot camera. Using the manual mode on my DSLR, hopefully I will be able to create some stunning photos.

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Golf – It’s also been over 20 years since I played golf. I played a lot when I was growing up and even early in my marriage (when I still had the time) I would play. I was never very good with my best handicap probably being 20+ but I always enjoyed getting out to play. In my teens, I remember seeing a number of old men playing the game. Now I am one.

So this is a start of my list; I’ll have a year to add more items to that list. And when that day comes about a year from now, I suspect I may be perplexed at what to do first. But I know that no matter what it is, it will be the beginning of a fun retirement.

Miniature Chairs

Anyone who does a search on my website for posts about scale models will find a number to read. Covering all kinds of models from cars, to planes, to trains, to furniture. One series provides the details for how I shrunk down full-scale plans for a DIY Adirondack Chair just to the right size that allows a smart phone to lounge in it.

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It goes without saying that I love all small-scale models and am naturally drawn to them whenever I see them. Other than toy furniture, probably my first exposure to scale-model chairs was a display collection my sister had at her house. I don’t know what kind they were but as expected, they intrigued me the first time that I saw them.

Then, one of the first times that my wife and I visited the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum in Amsterdam, they had a small collection of Vitra Design Museum Miniature Chairs for sale in their gift shop. These obviously caught my immediate attention. However, the price was on what I would consider the expensive side selling in the hundreds of dollars each. One in particular caught my eye though, in spite of its price.

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In 1999, after we bought our current home, we went to a modern furniture store to find furnishings for our great room. There we found a Barcelona chair. If you are not familiar with this chair, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich designed it for the German pavilion at the International Exposition of 1929 in Barcelona, Spain. And, if you pick up any modern architectural magazine, you are likely to see one or more of these chairs pictured in modern home or office spaces.

Other than a style name for a chair such as a wingback, we had never owned a chair with a formal name. So I thought it would be really interesting to have a scale model of this famous chair in our great room that could be seen while sitting in the actual chair. But I just couldn’t get over the price. And so I didn’t buy it. But that didn’t mean I stopped thinking about it.

Then one year, I was flying to Philadelphia for a conference. When I got off the plane and was walking through the terminal, I ran across a display of what appeared to be every single miniature chair Vitra made. It was a “child-like” moment of delight for me to see all of these and it convinced me no matter what the cost, that I had to have one of these.

Not long after my first discovery of that miniature Barcelona chair at the Stedelijk Museum, the museum closed for several years for renovations and so I couldn’t go and ponder over its purchase. But then one year, I found that the furniture department in the Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam had a small number of the Vitra chairs for sale. So each year on my trip there, I would go to that store to see if they had the Barcelona chair.

One year they did but unfortunately by this time the Euro was so strong against the US Dollar that it would have cost me about 30% more to buy it there. I had to let it pass again. But as before, I didn’t forget about it.

Fast forward a number years and I discover that the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York also sold the chairs. I then decided that I would give it to myself for my birthday. It’s price was somewhat out of line with what my wife and I would usually spend for each other on birthday presents so I just asked her to give me a contribution towards it. With this seed money, it was easier for me to rationalize the cost since her gift covered almost half the price.

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I proudly displayed it in a cabinet in our great room, within easy sight of the real chair.

I don’t recall how soon it was after getting that first chair that I started thinking about buying a second chair. And I immediately knew which one it would be.

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When we visited the library at Oberlin College for my daughter’s graduation, we discovered that that they had these ball chairs for library patrons to lounge in while reading. They were quite comfortable and cocooned the occupant from sound while seated.  I later learned that these famous chairs were designed by Eero Aarnio, a Finnish furniture designer, in 1963.

Once the Stedelijk reopened, I discovered that they had a Ball Chair for sale.

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But with the exchange rate at the time, it would have been over $300 US dollars. I gave it some long hard thought, but in the end, I didn’t make the purchase.

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The next year I was in Amsterdam, you already know where I went. I made up my mind I was going to buy it and proceeded to get the help of a sales person. Turns, out the display was the only one they had and when they got it down from the locked cabinet, I could tell that the red fabric was quite faded from facing the sun for at least two years. When the salesperson said she couldn’t even find the wooden crate it came in, I said no thanks.

On this trip, my wife was with me and I mentioned how close I had come to purchasing it but when I told her the details, she agreed that I had made the right choice. But she recognized I really wanted it and so for my birthday the very next year, the one in which I turned 60, she gave it to me as a complete surprise gift.

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Rather than joining its companion in our great room, this chair I decided to display at our condo on the vintage end table next to our vintage ashtray.

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And thanks to a quick suggestion from my son-in-law (no doubt based on my Adirondack phone chairs), it can even serve as a lounge for my wife’s cell phone whenever she is at the condo.

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So is there a third Vitra chair in my future? Well if there is, I have already picked it out. On a trip to Washington, DC not long ago, I found that my hotel room had an Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman in it.

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It was my first chance to sit in this type of chair for an extended period of time. I got to read sitting in it each night and found it was most comfortable. When I searched online to explore purchasing one, I discovered that an authentic one cost almost $5,000. I thought well maybe not the real one but possibly a miniature version. However, I discovered that even the miniature one sold for $795, more than the cost of my first two Vitra chairs combined.

Well as I did with my first two chairs, maybe I will just ponder this one for several years before making a purchase decision. In the mean time, it will be the one I search for whenever I am at a modern art museum so that I can at least see what the miniature version looks like in real life, rather than just viewing a photo online.

1st Road Trip!

Back in September, I took my new Subaru WRX out on her first road trip.

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Ever since I took delivery of the WRX in May 2016, I have wanted to get it out on the road to see how she did. I had been thinking of running up to Nashville and driving down part of the Natchez Trace Parkway but I had put that off not knowing how her ride would be on the highway on a 400+ mile trip.

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Now that my wife had a Subaru Outback and I had experienced what a comfortable ride it had on our summer vacation, I was concerned that my Gluteus Maximus (i.e., bottom) might be overly “jolted” by the sport suspension in the WRX. In 2010, I had learned from my 2,000+ mile drive in my Mazda Miata, that my aging posterior had become less tolerant of extended rides in a car with stiffer suspension designed to minimize body roll around sharp corners. If you’ve never ridden in a car with sport suspension, imagine driving a go-cart (which has no suspension) on a rough road.

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The trip that came up for this first road trip was a visit to see my two sisters in Northwest Arkansas, a one-way distance of about 350 miles. Although I see my sisters at least once a year at our annual SIBSAB (Sibling Sabbatical) and I also had just seen them this past summer on vacation, I had not been over to their homes in several years. I set off early one Saturday morning and in no time after crossing the Mississippi River, I was experiencing that familiar rough road surface of I-40 in Arkansas as well as the frustration of sporadic sections of the road under repair.

Over the many years of driving through Arkansas, it has always amazed me how poor a condition the roads are. It seems they are constantly either very rough or under construction which means you are often riding on the shoulder of the old road, an even rougher surface. I guess I don’t travel through the state often enough to experience the smoothness of newly completed construction. I guess by the time I am crossing the state, the new roads have already returned to their previous state of disrepair.

After about 3 hours of my total 5.5 hour trip, I had to stop and take a break. I decided to go ahead and fill up just to add some legitimacy to my stop even though I still had about a half a tank of gas left. Soon after, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I-40 in the western part of Arkansas was in much better condition and I-49 up to Fayetteville was in great shape although north of there, long sections were under repair. I made it to my destination just in time for lunch.

After lunch, my oldest sister and I headed down to the garage where some of our parent’s things were still stored, having been relocated there from their home after our dad’s death in 2002.

While certainly the main focus of my trip over was a chance to get to visit with my sisters, nephew, niece, and their families, an important draw for me for this trip was to discover the contents of this file cabinet (a story for another time).

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That done, we headed over to Crystal Bridges.

Many people are only familiar with Bentonville, Arkansas because it is the headquarters for Walmart, that behemoth retailer founded by Sam Walton. But what you might not know is thanks to the Walton family that Bentonville is also home to a world class museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And a unique, upscale boutique hotel 21c located just off the Bentonville town square.

I had previously visited Crystal Bridges early in 2012, not long after its November 2011 opening. But this visit was specifically to see the Bachman-Wilson House—a fine example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Usonian architecture—that had been relocated from its original location in New Jersey and reconstructed on the Crystal Bridges museum grounds. I have always been an admirer of Wright’s work and this visit afforded me the opportunity to explore inside one of his homes for the very first time.

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Inside photography was not allowed but if you click on the link above, you can get a virtual tour of the interior. It was absolutely amazing! The intricate details that were included and the continuity of the architectural design that made the house seamlessly blend from interior to exterior were incredible. It was the visual highlight of my trip over.

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After Crystal Bridges, it was on to the Bentonville Square where we stopped by the 21c Museum Hotel and toured the modern art on display that is also for sale (we didn’t ask how much any were), then a delicious dinner (and good beer) with all family members.

The next morning, I got up early as I needed to return home to complete some activities I had started the weekend before. Originally, my plan was to drive the Pig Trail, the scenic, curvy road that would allow me to experience the handling of my all-wheel drive WRX on winding roads. But on the drive up on Saturday, I had noticed a huge number of motorcycles everywhere I looked. Little did I know this was the weekend for the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Motorcycle Rally?

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My previous experience on the Tail of the Dragon, when there were large numbers of motorcycles present, that it was difficult to get in a spirited run on the road due to all the traffic congestion. I decided to save the Pig Trail for another trip over and so just headed home.

With the better roads in western Arkansas at the beginning of my trip rather than at the end, my first stop after well over 3-hours driving time was not due to posterior fatigue but rather the need for food and fuel as both my stomach and gas tank were near empty.

From an automotive perspective, it was a great first road trip in my WRX. With decent roads, it convinced me that I could easily handle longer distances. Since I still need to take a run on the Pig Trail, I know I will be heading over to visit my sisters again in the future. And with this first road trip under my belt, I now know that other road trips to the Tail of the Dragon or the Blue Ridge Parkway are well within reach as on smooth roads, the WRX was quite comfortable. Now it is just a matter of figuring out when the next road trip will be.

Reading Dad’s Sermons

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Not long ago, I wrote about discovering a book of some of my Dad’s sermons. At that time, there was one in particular I wanted to read; one that I still had vivid images of the story about which it was written. Having read that one sermon, I knew one day I would need to take this book back off the shelf and read more sermons. That day came this year.

I can’t recall what was the motivation for taking down that hand-bound book again; maybe searching for another book and spying it once again; or maybe it was wanting to feel closer to my dad as I approached the anniversary of his death. But whatever the reason, I opened it with renewed interest.

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I again read down the list of sermon titles to see if any struck any memories with me. None did. So I decided that I would simply read them in the order in which they were listed on the page. And by reading one every week, just like how they would have been delivered so many years ago, every Sunday morning, it would take me 32 weeks to finish the book.

I also decided to read the scripture passage accompanying each sermon, as I knew the Bible verses would play prominent in the lesson.

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As I began to read, I often pictured my dad in the pulpit as if he were alive today delivering the message.

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One of the first things I noticed was that part of the text was typed in all capital letters. I recalled whenever Dad gave a sermon, that there were times when he spoke directly to the congregation without looking down at his notes. And at other times, I could see that he was likely reading directly from his text. I wondered which portion of his text he read from and which he spoke gazing out on the people sitting in the pews. Since reading all caps is more difficult for the eye, I assumed these were the times when he would paraphrase whatever was written without looking down.

As I read each sermon, I wondered what era it might have been written in—what was currently in the news or on people’s minds. Occasionally there would be reference to a current event that would peg the timing of when it was written. But for others with my dad having served for over 40 years, it was a message that could have been written in any decade.

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As I finished reading each sermon, I looked ahead to the topic of next week’s sermon. It reminded me of how at some of his churches, there was a sign out front announcing the title of the next week’s sermon. While growing up, I can’t say I necessarily looked forward to going to church each Sunday.   But as an adult reading these over 14 years after his death, I very much looked forward to reading the next sermon.

In fact, as I finished reading the sermon each week, I found myself wanting to continue to read. But I didn’t let myself because I knew if I did, I would be disappointed when there was none left to read.

As I read each week, I recalled growing up that sometimes while I was listening to my dad’s sermon, my mind would begin to wander thinking of other things. When this happened, I would totally miss what he was saying and was always disappointed in myself for not paying more attention to hear his message. I would tell myself that I would have to do a better job of listening next Sunday. But by having the text in my hands, even though sometimes I would picture him in the pulpit saying aloud the words I read silently, I could go back and reread any of his words I missed or for added emphasis.

Then one week when I was reading, I came across a footnote at the end of the sermon entitled “The Paradox of Life.” It said:

This is one of my earliest sermons. I preached it more than any other. I preached it Sunday, April 25, 1948 in Cameron Texas when I met Gladys. After spending much of the day with her and friends, I returned to Austin Seminary and told my roommate: “I met my future bride today!” and so it proved.

 I got chills when I read this from the recognition that these were some of the first words my mother ever heard my father speak, captured for perpetuity. I wondered if each time he gave this sermon, if he too thought about the fact that it was his first sermon heard by his wife, my mother.

The other realization I had in reading this note was that Dad gave his sermons more than once. Given that he had served at four different churches while I was growing up, it never occurred to me that he could have given the same sermons to the four different congregations. It was a surprising realization in spite of the fact that I teach the same topic over and over and have done so for almost 20 years, fine tuning my talks, but relaying essentially the same message each time.

About half way through the sermons, I came a cross a series of eight sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. The first sermon was on the beginning of the “Our Father” and the last was on the doxology (“For thine is the kingdom…”), a conclusion that was probably added by the church in the second century. In between was a separate sermon for each of the six petitions in the prayer.

Reading these sermons, I had no recollection of ever hearing them before. I don’t know if it is because these were written before I was born or once I was long gone out of the house and on my own. But whatever the reason for my unfamiliarity, I now particularly looked forward to reading each of these over the eight weeks.

I had never studied the Lord’s Prayer in any detail so it was wonderful to get additional insight into each phrase. For many Christians, this is a prayer we pray throughout our lives and for me, one that I have prayed every single day for as far back as I can remember. But now, each morning when I say these well-known words, I say them in a new way thinking of my dad and the lessons he left me about it.

Once I had read the last of the 32 sermons, it was sad to close the book knowing that there would be no sermon to read the next week. For more than half a year, Dad’s words were a part of my weekly routine. Not that I don’t think of my dad often but this proved a particularly special time each week when my thoughts of my dad were influenced by his own words. Serendipitously, I read that last sermon just a week ago. Just in time for his birthday this week, the one on which he would have turned 90.

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And just like when he was still alive, when it was the rare occasion to see my dad getting a birthday present, this year on his birthday, he has once again deferred receiving a gift for giving one instead, to me, in the form of these sermons.

Thanks Dad, it was a wonderful gift! Happy Birthday to you!

Weekend Getaway

Over the Labor Day holiday, my wife and I went out of town for a weekend getaway. Although we had both been on a number of trips since January, this was the first time this year we were out of town by ourselves. My wife had booked us a cabin at Natchez Trace State Park and we were both looking forward to it. But ultimately it didn’t turn out exactly like we thought it would.

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The week before the holiday, our in-town granddaughter came down sick. On Thursday and Friday, we kept her so her parents could focus on their school studies as well as catch up on some of their lost sleep while she was up at night. I had taken a half day vacation that Friday but rather than leaving town after lunch like we planned, we both helped with caring for our granddaughter. We ended up not leaving town until 7:00 PM that night.

Fortunately, the state park is only about 100 miles away so even leaving as late as we did, we still didn’t have that far to travel. But once we got off the interstate and away from the traffic, we found it to be very dark. Even with the hi-beams on, the winding and narrow two lane road was a challenge in the almost absolute dark.

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We’d actually been to the park once before a number of years ago so I was somewhat familiar with the route to the lodge. But this time we were staying in a cabin which was off in another direction. When we finally found the cabins, the next task was to figure out which one was ours. We eventually discovered the cabin number was on the door and so we found our #6. When we pulled into the parking spot for the cabin, I realized that I was still in the road so I backed up to do a better job of parking.

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Even with the car’s back-up camera, I couldn’t see that the retaining wall was not straight but rather angled back towards the road. This I discovered when we heard a loud crash backing up. When I inched forward, the wall caught the wrap around bumper and pulled it off. Fortunately I was able to pop it back on with a few strategic blows from my fist.

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The next morning in the daylight, we could see from the outside that the cabin was quite small.

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And on the inside, I laughed to myself when I realized that it was actually smaller than our 670 square foot condo. Even more surprising was the size of the cereal bowls in the house, scaled appropriately I guess for a small kitchen.

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I really felt like Jethro (from the Beverly Hillbillies) when I had to mix up and eat my breakfast out a cooking pot.

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But the cabin was big enough for a weekend and it was cutely rustic.

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On the back, there was a nice porch overlooking the lake and a bench at the water’s edge where we could enjoy our coffee in the morning. However, our relaxing first morning was cut short when my wife recognized that her own health had deteriorated over the week and had fulminated into a full blown sinus infection. So rather than hiking on some of the trails we had planned to take, we drove into Jackson (fortunately only about 40 miles away) where she could go to a minor emergency clinic. With diagnosis confirmed, a sinus cocktail shot administered and antibiotic in hand, she felt like she could begin her road to recovery.

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As long as we were in Jackson, we decided to eat lunch at a pizza restaurant that served craft beers. Followed by a visit to a thrift store, an excursion my wife always enjoys whenever we’re out of town. Successful finds were toys and clothes for our grandkids.

When we got back to the cabin, I decided I would take that hike we’d missed earlier. But by then, it was quite hot and so I hadn’t traversed very far before I starting sweating. I soon made my way back to the cabin for some indoor reading in the cool. That night, we went to the lodge for dinner where there were all kinds of good southern fried foods, just not much healthy. Upon returning to our cabin, we saw we had missed the sunset over the lake and so decided we would have to catch it the next night, our last night at the cabin.

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The next morning, we once again enjoyed our coffee down by a perfectly calm lake.

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After lunch, we decided to go back into Jackson for a coffee and to pick up something for dinner so we could catch the sunset on our lake. Little did I know that my wife also had an ulterior motive—to go to Once Upon a Child, her favorite store for getting gently used toys and clothing for our grandkids.

Back at the cabin, we took one more of those late afternoon hikes, this time so my wife could capture some photos.

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But again the heat got to us and we cut our adventure short.

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After dinner, we took a glass of wine in these “fancy” cups down to the bench to wait for the sunset. I decided I wanted to get the exact same shot I took in the morning but with the sunset lighting instead.

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Sadly, we weren’t rewarded with the beautiful colors we thought we’d see but it was still quite peaceful and we had the symphony of summer cicadas to serenade us.

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The next day when we were packing up to leave, I was most thankful that we had driven my wile’s Subaru Outback. Just a year ago, she was driving a Mini Copper and me, a Fiat 500, neither of which would have accommodated all of her treasures.

As we made our way back home on the interstate, I quietly reflected on our weekend getaway. Certainly it was not what either of us had anticipated several weeks before when we made our reservation but it wasn’t disappointing either. Actually, it was a most relaxing time of not doing very much. And with all of our down time, I almost finished reading an entire book which is something I never get to do. As the Rolling Stones song goes, “you can’t always get what you want”, but if you try, you can “get what you need.” And the relaxing weekend we got was exactly what we needed!