Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

The journey has begun!  As you can see by the amount of tools, equipment, radios, and supplies, we are definitely not in Kansas any more.
We've quickly gone from orderly, tidy and almost boring demo to complete engagement.  I'm not complaining, mind you.  This is still contained and organized, but it has become a bit zany once all the activity came to life.

The shower seems to be a point of significant transformation.  It is the most involved "tear out" in the room and is the source of what will be the primary crafting effort.  As The Blogged Word's title bar suggests, blogging is as much art as it is science.  The shower will encompass both.

First, the art.

When the tile eventually go on the walls, they will follow a diamond pattern, with each tile angled 45 degrees, with the points up, down, left, and right.  Add to that a decorative trim of smaller 1 inch tiles around the walls at eye level and the placing of carefully cut tile pieces on the floor (pan) to follow the contour, and I expect to see the most challenging jigsaw puzzle around.

Now, the science.

The pan itself will be the science.  Start with a bare floor, add the drain positioned in the center, install quartered plywood panels, sloped to the center drain, spray with a fiberglass and resin cocktail, apply a base of cement-like mud, seal and then install the tile, and you get a science project of which any 5th grader would be proud.  I'm excited to see that "pan" out.  Sorry.  

Notice below that once the old shower enclosure was fully removed, part of the floor has been exposed.  This is to move the drain location slightly since we are gaining some additional depth due to increased framing (detailed pictures on that later.)

Between the two plumbing elbows shown, the drain itself will be moved a few inches to maintain the location in the center of what will be a slightly deeper area.  This will be an interesting series of steps as the shower pan is "built" in place, starting with the newly positioned drain.

A number of steps are yet to come to build this pan.  Based on how it's been described to me, it will be around long after the house is gone - and will never leak.  This will be fun to watch!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Demolition is that point of no return.  I am almost grateful that I wasn't around to witness the first pry, pull, smash, tug or chip.  Taking a weapon to a perfectly good bathroom just doesn't feel right, but at the same time, it holds a certain stress-relieving appeal.  But that's a Retirement Countdown blog topic.

So here goes: the toughest part of the job.  The sight of debris created and construction origins exposed.

Notice the tarp taped to, and covering up the tub.  Nice touch.

If you're wondering what's bothering you about these photos, I'll give you some time to consider.  OK, that's long enough.  The room is clean!  This is one of the traits that came out when we talked to one of the references: they pick up behind themselves.  This would seem to be a difficult specification to place on the contractor's bid.  Either it's in their nature - or it isn't.  You can easily see how this contractor stacks up.

Notice below, some of the previous "quality" workmanship that is becoming apparent as areas are exposed during demo.  This poorly mudded wall behind the backsplash will cause some challenges when a flat, straight and plumb surface will be needed for the granite backsplash.  But hey, if it was easy, I'd be doing it!  

Also notice above the existing water shut off valves and drain.  This originally had two sinks, but the previous owner had one removed so that she could have a drop-down vanity.  Thank you.  Anyway, we're going back to a two holer.  Wait a minute - that's another part of the bathroom.  I mean, back to two sinks.

Now we get to a couple of favorite photos in this post.  I know what you're thinking - here comes more potty humor.  Well, to a point, you're right.  The toilet of course, has to come out. Underlament, mud and then tile will be going down.  You pull the toilet, do the work, re-seat the toilet.

But where did it go?  In the shower, of course!  Think of the time saved in the mornings!

OK, it's actually now in the garage, and the rest of the shower stall has been removed.  But there's one more characteristic of a conscientious, professional contractor:  debris removal.  As you can see, he has taken the effort to stage a utility trailer for capturing the debris.  Nothing sitting around, nothing scattered around the yard, just efficient disposition. 

With demo done, it's time to see if we can get it all put back together.  That's the next leg of the trip.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Final "Material Selection" Frontier

To stretch an analogy about as far as I dare, a bathroom remodel is a lot like space exploration.  We've never personally done it before, once we've started, we've realized it's very difficult to turn back and while the end state is only envisioned and we don't have an exact image of what it will look like when we get there, all we can do is simply go in a general direction we trust will get us there.

Changes though, are as inevitable as asteriods.  OK, I'm done.

While our original selections were quite nice, a little education and experience, along with a passionate contractor who had an outstanding granite and tile supplier, showed us we had an opportunity to improve upon those positions.  How we got there:

In working with the granite and tile supplier, we became quite fond of granite and travertine tile.  The granite countertop actually came in a bit less expensive than the Caesar Stone and the travertine was on a par with the ceramic tile.  But there was one very distinctive advantage to the tile.  At 18 inches square, and much larger than the ceramic tile, the travertine reduced grout lines dramatically, not to mention the larger size is very striking.  Thinking of reduced cleaning needs over the many years we expect to enjoy it was immensely appealing.

Speaking of grout, any tile selection includes it.  These samples show both a standard grout compound for the floors as well as an epoxy based material for the shower.  For us, it was a simple choice on two dimensions.  The second from the right on the epoxy card is called Tumbleweed.  It happened to be our favorite and for anyone who knows my nickname, you'll understand my fondness.

Next is the granite.  Color selection is a very personal choice, so there's not much I can preach except that Tumbleweed is the best.  This happens to fit very well with our tastes and the current paint color in the rest of the room.  For us, it fit perfectly.

Another aspect of this project, of which I did not get many photos, is the trim pieces selected for accents.  No, you are not correct in thinking I've been taking these photos with differing light intensities for dramatic effect and creative expression.  The reality is that some are too bright with a flash, some are too dim without it and some are simply done on a cheap Blackberry camera.  C'mon - you're not getting National Geographic.

These trim pieces will make a great contrast to the large, 18 inch tiles, placed at an angle in the shower, in a diamond pattern and add almost a touch of whimsy to a very elegant tile and granite.

With the pair of contractors evaluated, asked to adjust, told thanks but no thanks, then finally found number three, and the materials considered, selected, returned, reconsidered, chosen, and ordered, we are ready for blast off!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Material Selection: Round 1

When going on a big vacation, half the fun is the planning, anticipation and envisioning that takes place ahead of the departure.  A bathroom remodel project is no different.

Since we had taken a run at the two original contractors - twice - before choosing another, we had begun to make some material selections with them and their suppliers.  Then of course, we did a course correction and inherited a new set of material selections and different sources with our chosen contractor.  This too, turned out to be a better outcome.

The orginal countertop material we looked at was from Caesar Stone, a man-made product.  It is made of bits of quartz nuggets with a small amount of pigments and polymer resins.  Very attractive, practically no maintenance and of course, would last a lifetime.  What we later found out, the subtle differences in reflectivity between the granite and the resin made it look like it was waterspotted when the light hit it just right.  This would have been a constant source of frustration, wiping and wiping, but not having any way of eliminating the tiger's spots.

Along with the quartz was a ceramic tile and accent tile combination.  No issues here.  The sample board we were able to borrow confirmed everything would work with our colors and more imporantly, with the countertop material.

Then, we saw the light.

Remember, we were dealing with the trip from La La Land to the Land of Reality while considering the above samples.  When we finally made the contractor selection, we were exposed to a fresh set of materials and suppliers they normally use.  What a wonderfully fresh perspective.

Next up: the final selections.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Into the Land of Reality

Leaving La La Land for the Land of Reality wasn't a bad trip after all.  We ended up with a great contractor and a very acceptable solution - at a price that didn't have me reaching for the nitro.  Here's how we got there:

We went back to the original two contractors and asked for a revised bid based on our revised sense of reality.  They accommodated our sticker shock-based request cheerfully.  During that time, we happened to get the name of who turned out to be our chosen contractor from a friend, who knew of this contractor's work from a friend of theirs.  We thought, what the heck, throw them (two partners) into the mix for this revised plan.

At this point, I was beginning to believe the original two contractors were the ones in La La Land.  Their revised bids were less, but still within a baseball's throw of "ouch and boing."  The third (and now successful) contractor came at us with what we believed was reality.  We checked their Contractor's Board registration, references, and specifically talked to a previous customer.  After hearing just how pleased they were with their project and that they would hire them back in a minute, we were in.

Next up: project details and materials selection.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leaving La La Land

Due diligence is an important aspect of any significant business transaction.  Spending thousands of dollars on a bathroom remodel surely qualifies as significant.  Based on the original design, we engaged two contractors to review the project, consider our options, and present their proposals.

Be careful for what you ask - you may get it.

The first bid came in.  Since I started the Bathroom Remodel blog topic posting with a quote, it's appropriate to use another.  I would characterize our reaction the same way Danny Kaye in White Christmas described to Bing Crosby the cost of doing a holiday show:  "How much is 'wow'? It’s right in between, uh, 'ouch' and 'boing.'"

We thought, OK... the second bid was very likely going to be the "low bidder" and would have a chance at survival (not his, ours!)  It was, but only by a few hundred dollars.  This is where the reality set in that is mentioned in the previous post.

Our new reality is to modify our plan, if there was any chance of being able to feel good about this project.  We did, and we are.  Another itinerary check: we're now leaving La La Land.

When one's heart is set on something, it's difficult to change course.  In our case, "two's" hearts were set on something.  But the revision was necessary.  We realized that much of the cost was the significant construction and plumbing requirements that would come with framing in a shower where a tub currently sits and building a cabinet where a shower currently sits.  We decided to leave everything where it was and simply improve the space to whatever extent was possible.

New (and what is proving to be a very successful plan): tear out the fiberglass shower enclosure, add the cabinet and second sink, select some nice tile and granite and call it good.  Actually, I'd call it great, but you'll have to wait until I can catch up on the posts to where we are on the project.

Stay tuned.

Welcome to the Bathroom Remodel!

It Has Begun!
(Actually, it is already moving along quite well.)

In this part of The Blogged Word, we'll explore our first ever master bathroom remodel.  Scope decisions, contractor selection, design, materials and many, many "A or B" forks in the road.  Let's, as Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland, "Start at the beginning... and when you come to the end, STOP!"

First, the beginning:

We live in a two bedroom, two and 1/2 half bath home in a golf course community.  Nice area, nice home, but we wanted to dance up the master bathroom.

Specifically, we wanted to remove the small, shower enclosure and turn that into a large cabinet.  In its place, we were going to change the tub (which is hardly ever used - note the one handle installed backward) and turn it into an oversized shower.  Finally, a second sink was to be added.  One was there before, but the previous owner had it removed in favor of a dropped surface vanity.  Fortunately, the plumbing is all there.

We felt that since we were isolating our project to just one room and planning to get bids from multiple contractors, we would evaluate the proposed solutions, and then choose based on comfort level, reference checks and especially, overall costs.

Then, reality set in.

1038 - Balancing Relaxation


After passing the half-way point on Kauai, I've come to realize the 11-day vacation is still a wonderful invention. Yesterday marked the day on which we would normally have returned home after the 7-day escape. The extra feeling of relaxation that was expected is indeed taking hold and I expect the overall experience to be successful in doing its "unwinding."

But with that relaxation, I'm developing a new awareness of the importance of eliminating the need for it. (Notice I'm not addressing the "want" - only the "need.")

In 1047 - Vacations With New Meaning, I've reflected on relaxation as the third pillar of cardiovascular health. (Diet and exercise being the other two.) Not that I'm interested in talking myself out of 11-day vacations, but I'm beginning to see a new perspective. If I truly get relaxation under control to the same successful extent as I've conquered diet and (somewhat) exercise, there may not be the need for 11-day recuperative escapes. (Notice again, "need" not "want!")

This is surfacing for a number of reasons. Sure, this blog and its success in causing me to reflect in ways I've never understood before. But another area is in the conversation my wife and I are having about planning the next big vacation. Now I'm a big believer that anticipation and planning are half the fun of a grand vacation, and we've done that before with much success. But this new feeling (not even a full belief yet) that is growing is that if there is success in managing that "Clock up on the Wall," are "11-dayers" still necessary - or even appropriate?

Here's my wild-ass thinking: I've suggested that getting a handle on relaxation is a good thing. OK, so how is that accomplished? There's no silver bullet, but one could consider moderating every day activities, taking more frequent, albeit shorter/smaller breaks, and smoothing out the relaxation "curve." Keep stress under control, blow off a small amount of steam frequently, and remember to slow down.

Vacations could simply be an extension of that philosophy. Like the ophthamologist says, "What's better, A or B?"

A) Save for a grand, 11-day vacation every couple of years, hope for the extra unwinding that has at least recently proven trustworthy in presenting itself, and take the gamble that there is enough "stress capacity" to get from one vacation to the next, or...

B) Stick with the 7-day medicine (I'm still holding out for 11-days, but time will tell), but take that prescription more often. To take this metaphor painfully further, consider it as a vitamin supplement, taking more frequent 2-3 day excursions, woven in to add even more rungs in the health ladder. (Sorry, I got on a roll with those stupid metaphors and just couldn't stop!)

I don't yet have a definitive answer on A) or B), but it is plenty of fodder for consideration. What's your relaxation strategy? How do you work toward balance? Are you an A) or a B)? I'd appreciate your feedback.


1 comment:

Molly said...

I've been reading a ton of fitness books lately and the ones that I feel are the most successful are the ones that focus on a more holistic approach to health; that is, instead of offering 20 great exercises or an incredible new diet, the really good programs include your mind as a very necessary part of the "better life" equation, something you seem to have stumbled upon on your own.

Your mental health can be nurtured in a whole lot of ways. Certainly, the act of exercising and otherwise caring for your body has a positive impact on your stress levels, but even more than that, some of the programs I've been reading about emphasize trying meditation, tai chi or yoga or other ways to focus and nurture your mind.

It might not be as fun as two weeks at a tropical locale, but creating a little oasis of calm in your life might be just what the doctor ordered!

1047 - Vacations With New Meaning

In addition to relationships in the workplace, vacations have evolved over time as well. It used to be that the traditional 7-day vacation was the norm. If lucky, a trip somewhere exotic was in the cards, but unfortunately, not often enough. Over time, that has evolved into 11+ days for those exotic locals. Here's how:

For the first time two years ago, our Hawaiian vacation was an "11-dayer." Little did I know a year earlier when the plans were made that it would change the landscape. During the trip, we joked on the 7th day about that day being when we would normally be going home. Then on Day 8, we began to appreciate the "bonus time." On Day 9, the deep relaxation began to kick in and on Day 10, the mind finally caught up with the body. When going home on Day 11, it was the first time I truly felt the full relaxation that had been the goal during all the previous years of "7-dayers."

With college tuition still being part of the picture at that time, it took an entire year after the first "11-dayer" to plan the next one - a year out. But it did get planned a little over a year ago and here we are, day after tomorrow, going again. But this time, the planning for the "next" one is starting before the "current" one. Hey, after all, the anticipation, planning and mental journey far in advance is half the fun.

Sure, seeing the end of college tuition payments in the distance is one significant factor in being able to consider the next vacation right away. But there is of course another factor1060: Relief + Frustration + Encouragement + Relaxation = Hope. Let's focus on the Relaxation part this time.

As I've blogged before, diet and exercise are under control. It is the third pillar of relaxation that needs work. There are of course many dimensions of relaxation such as attitude, music selection, planning, problem solving approaches and of course, vacations. All the former are worth blog posts on thier own, but we're talking about vacation here. My goal is to help the mind catch up to the body more often.

In large ways, the "11-dayers" could be considered chainsaw carving. The others such as attitude, music selection, planning, problem solving approaches and many other daily choices would be considered handsaws, files, sandpaper and polish. (Not necessarily in any order.) It will take a comprehensive strategy, approached from many directions, to achieve the same level of stress reduction as I have with diet and exercise.

Does this perspective ring any bells with you? Could it help you create vacations with new meaning? If so, how are you going to go about it?

1057: "Get Less Competition From the Clock up on the Wall"

This post's title is a phrase from a song from the great philospher Jimmy Buffett's song Blue Guitar on the album called Far Side of the World.  Rest assured, Parrothead tendencies are a topic for an entirely different blog.  However, the point is sound: like an opponent, we are constantly challenged by time - how we use it, how we save it, and how we manage it.
Today, I saw a colleague who has for the last few months, worked just one floor above me.  We used to work in another building, interacting on sometimes a daily basis.  Then today, we cross paths for the first time (in a very long time), in spite of being just one floor away.  This has caused me to think about the changing relationships in a company over time.
Our previous environment was much more casual in nature.  No, not the dress code (although some people occasionally stretched that interpretation), but the atmosphere.  Many long-time colleagues working together can cause a family feeling.  Together, we've gone through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, graduations and countless other life events.  Events that bind a group together.  Any sort of celebration was a cause for a food day and let me tell you: we knew how to eat.
But times change.
Now add to the life events shown above such as regular job changes, retirements, layoffs and a divisional relocation across the country.  What binds above, breaks below.  Many people moved during the relocation, many did not, and some left the company.  A big part of the family was broken up.  I left over a year ago on an unrelated job change, but I was affected by way of "leaving the family."  Seeing my friend today brought back feelings of the old days.
In other posts, I've talked about time being an ally.  Invest early, save for retirement, drink pina coladas on a tropical island.  Here, it is an enemy.  Time can change an environment ever so slowly that it takes seeing a long lost friend to snap you back.  Only then, do you realize time has changed dramatically, one tick at a time.
Moral to this story:  stay in touch with friends.  Don't let the day-to-day cause you to lose your battle with the clock up on the wall.

1058: Evolutionary Exercise

Yesterday in 1059, an engaging blogger, Dan From Madison, suggested I consider a bicycle as an alternative to running.  He made a great point about it still being very good exercise and not as grueling as running.  I especially appreciated his advise on taking the time and making the investment to work with a good bike shop to select equipment properly and get it fitted correctly.  His suggestion made me pause to consider how my exercise has evolved through the years.

Yes, this is a retirement blog.  Yes, it may appear we've gotten a bit off track talking so much about health, exercise and diet.  But it all fits.  Retirement is a delicate balance of working long enough to afford not to, but not working too long as to prevent yourself from physically enjoying it.

As a pup, it was all about hockey with a little baseball.  No, I wasn't very smart: goalie and catcher respectively.  But I enjoyed them both.  As the years passed, baseball became softball.  Junior hockey became senior hockey.  After many years of being out of hockey, I actually made a brief return just to prove to myself I still had the reactions.  Unfortunately, my equipment was so old, it began falling apart.  Note: that was the EQUIPMENT that was falling apart - not the goalie.  Tennis and golf have always hovered, but are playing larger roles these days.

Here's the consideration - then a quesiton.  It's interesting that the physical activity has naturally lightened over the years.  It appears that age has somewhat discreetly caused the activity intensity to change.  Now, here's the question:

If you could see clearly into the future, as clearly as I'm trying to look to the past, would you attempt to maintain or even increase your activity levels as you age?  Would you consciously adjust your activities (accounting of course for being safe as the body ages), or would you simply let the passage of time direct the course?  My goal is clear: increase the activity level, while being heart smart.   

Another migrated comment:

Dan from Madison said...

I plan on being active until I die, as a way to keep in shape - my metabolic rate is notoriously low and I like to eat - thus I must exercise.

That said, right now I enjoy biking, running and Muay Thai and training fighters. I am 39 now, and there is no way I will be able to continue this into my fifties and sixties. I suppose I could keep moving with Muay Thai with not as much contact, but fighter training - no way. 

I am just going to keep going until my body tells me it is time to stop. I have asked many people the question you seem to be asking about diminishing returns and almost universally I am told by doctors, physical therapists and other professionals that my body will tell me "when" it is time to stop. Until then I am going to keep up my current pace. 

When the time comes, I will just move from running to walking, biking 100 miles on hills to 50 on flats, etc.


1059: Starting a Streak at Two in a Row

For you eagle-eyed readers, you'll quickly see that I am now making my second post in two days.  Wow! That will sure make my blog hit the first page on Google results!

In 1123: A Dubious MilestoneI referenced five broken ribs and a punctured lung in the context of never really having any serious health problems... er... ah... except for being clumbsy.   For the blog record, that was day 1857.  Now that I've opened the door, I'd better dance on the threshhold:
  • Playing tennis
  • On a dead run
  • Going for a backhand
  • Ran too far; ran too hard
  • Went down on the hardsurface
Yes, five ribs and a hole in my lung.  It's worse than that: I lost the point AND had to forfeit the match since my buddies took me to the hospital.  The best line came from the trauma center doctor when he saw me shuffling around the nurses station on day two.  "Tennis, huh?  I play tennis.  I don't know if I want to play you, or get the hell out of your way..."  It hurt to laugh.

The purpose of sharing less-than-flattering family photos is the "flashback" sort of perspectives this blog project is causing.  No, not those kinds of flashbacks, it is causing me to remember events at different times and in different ways.  Then, deciding just how to share those thoughts.  Over two years ago, I was in the best shape in 20 years - then in an instant - practically immobile for nearly two months.  And in that instant, I realized that I wasn't so bulletproof after all.  Very sobering.

So here I am again, looking at a strategy with a very different perspective:  I'm fortunate that I don't have to rehabilitate per se, but the challenge seems even greater.  Now, it's not as much suppressing a sneeze for 6 weeks while bones heal, as it is calculating how hard to press without pressing the heart too much.   Yesterday's post was about the cardiologist taking charge and defining the sandbox in which I can play: tennis, golf, powerwalking (no running.)  It is now my turn to take charge and devise a way to maximize my training effects while minimizing any additional x-rays.

Creative, healthy, low impact training:  What's your strategies?

Again, below are three comments that did not carry over to The Blogged Word:


Dan from Madison said...

Heh, that X-ray is ugly.

I can't really relate to your exercise needs because I am only 39 and am pushing my body at this moment to do insane things. But I do a lot of long distance cycling.

How about buying a bike? Cycling is very low impact (as long as you are on streets and paths), and is fun and relaxing. You don't have to do centuries on big hills like me, even 10 miles can be pleasant.

One recommendation though - if you decide to pick it up, do it right - go to a GOOD bike shop and spend the extra $$ and get fitted for your bike. If you ever get the fever and want to go extra distances this will minimize any aches and pains.

Weed said...

Dan, thanks for the advice. Since running is out, I've actually thought about a bike as a fun replacement - and a lot easier on this 52 year old body.

Keep up the exercise. At 39, you're far ahead of me in that I didn't start paying close attention until much later. Hindsight is 2020.

The other part that you can do for yourself is to get your cholesterol checked. I went years without paying attention, now I'm paying a bit of a price.

Thanks for the encouragement. If I can get my wife interested, maybe that bike will turn out to be "for two."



1060: Relief + Frustration + Encouragement + Relaxation = Hope

These are an unusual grouping of feelings, but when one visits their cardiologist, this could be considered only the tip of the emotional iceberg.  Fortunately, the follow-up was all positive - at least to the extent possible.  Except for constant running, all other activity requests were granted - tennis, walking, golf.  The long, slow burn of walking is the best.  I liked the doctor's analogy: one might drive a brand new Ferrari hard with power slides around turns on the track and rapid acceleration, but a 52 year old model might not be treated quite the same way.  I appreciated being connected to a Ferrari.

Relief.  With the dramatic change of eating and exercise habits over the last few years, nothing really has to change in that regard.  Yes, a relief.  With a very positive prognosis, things are almost all back to normal.  Time horizons are back in place and opinions of the future are back where they were.  With only a slight modification which includes some meds.

Frustration.  There's one aspect of the follow-up visit that did cause some frustration.  The cardiologist made a comment that put me in a place from which I can't exit:  "I didn't pick my parents well."  This has nothing to do with my love of my parents, but everything to do with heredity.  There are simply a couple of small blood vessels that are not fully functioning.  Not much can be done in that regard.  Fortunately, the areas of the heart serviced by those arteries don't require a lot of blood anyway.  The meds are the "fix."

Encouragement.  Back to the lack of habit-changing requirements: the path I'm currently traveling is sound.  Keep up the good eating habits (one burger a month allowed!) and keep up the exercise regimen.  This was a "keep doin' what you're doin' " moment.  The only piece of the trilogy that I'm lacking is relaxation.

The cardiologist cited a book he recommends to patients written by Dr. Dean Ornish called "Reversing Heart Disease.  The three elements of his strategy are diet, exercise and relaxation.  I'm currently batting two for three.  But relaxation will be the new blip on my health radar.

This all adds up to Hope.  After 1123, I immediately began questioning everything about my current being.   Schedules, commitments, attitudes, activities - they were all scrutinized.  Fortunately, a more objective review over some time helped me to realize that not much has to change.  Everything (except running!) is still part of the picture and that is a relief.  Based on the report, my hope is that a very large percentage of my life will continue unaffected.

One additional note:  I'm considering the merits of a blog topic that discusses my migration from cholesterol levels near 230 and lowering it on my own in eight months to 149.  I'd appreciate your thoughts on the merits of this discussion and how it could be structured.  If I can make that sort of impact on my own, others may benefit from the journey.  Please weigh in on the issue.

The Countdown continues.  Now, with an ever-evolving perspective not known before.  Next area of exploration and eventual focus: relaxation.

1123 - A Dubious Milestone

You've heard this before: "Just when you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you realize it's an oncoming train." In this case, the train was a heart attack. Fortunately, it was considered mild, but it was cause for reassessing my reality, if not my mortality. (Editorial note: if this was "mild", I really don't want to experience "severe!")

In a previous post, I mentioned the "stars aligning" when I was fortunate enough to land my current position. That was true in many areas pre-1123. But now, there are a new set of rules by which to live. No, I don't mean cutting out red meat, getting more exercise, reducing cholesterol - those have been under control for years. (Hey, as my only source of red meat, even my cardiologist approves my "one burger a month" regimen.) What I mean is the degree to which attention is paid to my health - a significantly raised sense of awareness.

For years, I thought I was doing well at exercising and what I thought was relatively healthy eating and weight control. Even while I was getting cholesterol under control in recent years (without medication, thank you!), I was falsely thinking that I was a pretty healthy guy. Never any serious health problems (as long as you discount the 5 broken ribs and a punctured lung since that was due to clumsiness, not heredity.) What 1123 made me realize is how health habits are like compound interest: if one starts early, the effort is minimal for excellent success. If one starts later, it takes a much more drastic effort to come anywhere close to matching the success.

Honestly, I have a point: the lenses through which I view my health have changed. Since cholesterol is now not much of a challenge, I am now focusing on sodium content. Have you read a label lately? I am of course being careful about getting back to all my sports (running, tennis, golf) by simply walking harder and longer each day, in a calculated way - 1123 is history and I want to keep it that way. Weight is being reduced further. (Beyond the additional health benefits, let's be realistic: most of us still look better with our clothes ON, don't we?)

The only variable in this scenario is family history. I had a college professor that put it this way: "Healthy habits are one thing, but a large factor that must be considered is whether or not you picked your parents well." Heredity isn't the reason for abandoning good habits - in fact, it should be the motivation to adopt the healthiest of habits.

All of us have room to improve. It's all about choices. When our kids were young, we used to tell them that the types of choices they made in life determined how many choices, or options, they would have in the future. Make a good choice and it helped to ensure future options or choices to make. Make a bad choice and the future may not hold has many options or avenues to pursue. Sort of like an ATM for choices.

The next time you sit down at a restaurant, make some simple choices: a fajita salad instead of a deep fried chimichanga; eat 4 or 5 chips with salsa then down the rest of your water; instead of a milkshake, have a fruit smoothie; shop in different aisles at the grocery store (meaning the healthy section) - you will be amazed at the options. My favorite guilty pleasure: corn dogs. Well, I haven't had a traditional C dog in years, but Morningstar makes a veggie corn dog that has ZERO cholesterol and only moderate fat content. I place it on the BBQ grill until it's perfectly crispy and slightly browned, then lather it up with old fashioned French's Mustard - it's just like being at the carnival.

It's all about choices. Good choices allow you to enjoy the experience without sacrificing your health. The more of these kinds of good choices you make, the more you will get to make in the future. The fewer good choices made - well... the alternative is the oncoming train.

If you don't know your cholesterol number, get it checked. If you know it, lower it. Walk around the block. Ride a bike. Hug your family members. Tell your friends.

Stay off the train.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Time is relative - especially here. 1588 isn't today's true number, but it was a milestone. In catching up to the current day through creative and witty blog postings, this event bears noting. First, a perspective:

It is becoming more unusual for a person to spend their entire career at one company as I have. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today's students will have 10-14 jobs - by age 38. While I have had many positions at one company, it has been - one company. Based on the increasingly mobile society in which we live, I would argue that many of those 10-14 jobs will be with multiple employers.

Employees make livings for themselves ranging from what's considered "good" to being challenged with every household expense. Some don't like their jobs at all while some are completely satisfied. There are many in the middle who simply work because they have to, and accidentally derive some positive experiences along the way.

In one's career, there can be positions held that fulfill, challenge, enrich, allow growth, and even provide enjoyment. But it is rare that they all happen at the same time. Then add the element of fun, and it truly becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enter 1588.

This Retirement Countdown blog concept originated from the notion that as soon as I was eligible for retirement (age 55 and 30 years of service), I would jump at the opportunity to do something new. When I'm 55, I'll have 32+ years of service and I thought it might be time for a different environment. Then, 1588 happened.

An accidental series of events caused me to learn about my current position. Once I pursued it, I was fortunate to land it. Almost because it was "meant to be." Now I'm not usually a cosmic person, but the stars did align. Not only am I experiencing all the positive aspects mentioned earlier (and many more!), I am actually having fun. Fun. Something people don't normally mention when blogging about their jobs.

Over this past year, my perspective has now changed. Instead of counting down the days to August 1, 2011 for an exit at a high rate of speed, I'm now much less motivated to count. Make no mistake, I'm still counting - but not with the same fervor. I may continue to work because I want to - not just because I have to. It may boil down to just how long this position remains "fun."

If you were to land your dream job just as retirement was coming into focus, how would it change your countdown drive?

Note: since this post moved from The Retirement Countdown, the connected comments did not come along.  Below is a post from a good friend, Molly.  You can read her blog at

I have fun, a lot of fun, at my current position as well, however, given the choice, if I were able to retire tomorrow, I would very likely take it. This is not so much a reflection of how I view my job (which I do enjoy), but what is going on outside of my job. With two young children growing up while I work full-time, I often get pangs that I'm missing out on important milestones. I would love to be more active in their classrooms and daily lives.

While it is possible that I do have what is close to a dream job right now, who is to say that a dream pasttime or side business might not be there if I only had the time to pursue it?

If/when I retire, though, I will need some kind of side venture going, some freelance, volunteer or other parttime work, to anchor my life and keep me from being too bored.

Thanks for asking!