NOTE: The presentation of entertainment and poignant knowledge doesn’t change the world, but it does provide a little inspiration and a brief respite from a world that often needs a little changing.

So, a few days ago…New Year’s Eve…my wife and I were talking about resolutions. When you’re retired there really isn’t a lot of resolution-making to be had, but we were at least discussing the whole predicament.

If we were to make resolutions, what would those resolutions be? Would they, in fact be resolute? Or would they be half-hearted and meandering?

We could, of course, wish for continued happiness for ourselves. And for success and happiness for our children and their families. And, as all older people eventually do, we could wish for good health.

Which got us to talking.

We certainly don’t want to be sick. Or even have aches and pains. And certainly the absence of surgery would be a good thing.

But if we needed surgery what kind of surgery would be okay? Back surgery, or a hernia operation, or a transplant of some kind. Maybe a kidney transplant, we thought, might be okay. But not just any kidney. One that wouldn’t have to get up once or twice in the night to get relief.

Maybe heart surgery, but then that led us to a frivolous discussion about who has the biggest heart, and whose heart would be broken if the other’s heart was, in fact, broken. And how would the broken heart that was not the heart that was actually broken be fixed? We smlled.

Then we talked brain surgery and thought about the possibility of a brain transplant. Which led to all the aspects of who had only half a brain and could we share a brain, and who’s brain we might get, and does a new brain on an old body change what happens, or does my brain on a new body mean I’d be younger in the mind, or younger at heart, or just young and immature again.

And we thought about if she got a man’s brain and I got a woman’s brain, how would that all work. And, of course who want’s a new brain in an old body. And what if doctor’s found out that my brain really was in my ass and how would that work. Could I have two brains? And if I had two brains would I still sometimes act like I had half a brain?

And on and on and on.

And pretty soon the whole concept of making resolutions got lost in the laughter. And that was amazing. Because we realized we were achieving happiness. And that was enough.

So, if you made resolutions, do try to keep them. But if you just laughed about your resolutions? Well, that’s all right too.

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NOTE: Retirement can be a lot of things. For me, at this moment in my life, it’s largely enjoyable and even downright fun. There’s nothing negative except the wear and tear that all things old normally brings. Nothing else. And this blog is an attempt to comment on that nothing, and that something, that exists in retirement.

Yesterday was the perfect trifecta: the first day of the week and the first day of the month and the first day of the year.

And if you’re old enough to be retired, then you’ve been through a lot of first days, including first days of many new years.

And when the new year begins there is often the thought of resolutions. But resolutions are for tomorrow’s post.

Today’s post is about wishes.

In 2011 the author Neil Gaiman (“American Gods” is my favorite of his books) wrote a wish for the new year. He said:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.”

As retired people who are finished with the work we used to do everyday; finished with the ambition we had when we were in our 20’s, and finished with so many of the goals we have so happily achieved, I think Neil’s wish is a calling. Read his quote again.

Yes, we do still need to do new things we’ve never done before, do still need to create new dreams, and do still need to change the little corners of the world we inhabit. In short…we do still need to Do Something.

And we need to make certain it is something that pushes us and energizes us. As someone once said to me: “We’re retired, not dead.”

Live new dreams.

Happy 2018.

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Holidays are a lot of different things to people.

Celebration, relaxation, family, food, friendship, sadness, laughter, loneliness, travel, religion, children, grandparents, shopping, gifts, and joy.

For me, it is many of those things and more, but what it is not is a time for writing.

I wish you all the happiest of holidays. Blog posts shall return on Wednesday, January 3.

Be safe. Be sensible. Be frugal. Be young-at-heart.

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NOTE: This week this blog will present something a bit different; stories and poems celebrating the week before Christmas. Like many retired persons, I clearly remember reading these four tales. Please share them, and even read them aloud. Happy holidays!

The very well-known poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” also sometimes known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” was first published anonymously in 1823 and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore.

According to the “legend,” the poem was composed by Moore on a snowy winter’s day during a shopping trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical character of Saint Nicholas. Moore originated many of the features that are still associated with Santa Claus today while borrowing other aspects, such as the use of reindeer.

The poem was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York “Sentinel” on December 23, 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Moore, and was reprinted frequently thereafter with no name attached. It was first attributed in print to Moore in 1837. Moore himself acknowledged authorship when he included it in his own book of poems in 1844.

And even though all of you are probably well aware of this poem, I am presenting it here in hopes you will read it aloud more than once to your family and friends.

“Twas the Night before Christmas”
By Clement Clarke Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

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NOTE: This week this blog will present something a bit different; stories and poems celebrating the week before Christmas. Like many retired persons, I clearly remember reading these four tales. Please share them, and even read them aloud. Happy holidays!

This is one of my favorite pieces of journalistic writing. I used it in my university writing classes nearly every year. It is simply a marvelous reply to a child’s inquiry. I hope you all enjoy it.

“Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus”
By Francis P. Church, first pub­lished in “The New York Sun” on Sep­tem­ber 21, 1897.

We take plea­sure in an­swer­ing thus promi­nently the com­mu­ni­ca­tion below, ex­press­ing at the same time our great grat­i­fi­ca­tion that its faith­ful author is num­bered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Vir­ginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been af­fected by the skep­ti­cism of a skep­ti­cal age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not com­pre­hen­si­ble by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great uni­verse of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his in­tel­lect as com­pared with the bound­less world about him, as mea­sured by the in­tel­li­gence capable of grasp­ing the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as cer­tainly as love and gen­eros­ity and de­vo­tion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child­like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tol­er­a­ble this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which child­hood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chim­neys on Christ­mas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither chil­dren nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can con­ceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and un­see­able in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil cov­er­ing the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the su­per­nal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thou­sand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will con­tinue to make glad the heart of childhood.

NOTE: Vir­ginia O’Hanlon went on to grad­u­ate from Hunter College with a Bach­e­lor of Arts degree at age 21. The fol­low­ing year she re­ceived her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teach­ing in the New York City school system, later be­com­ing a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Through­out her life she re­ceived a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she at­tached an at­trac­tive printed copy of the Church editorial. Vir­ginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81.

Francis Church died in April, 1906.

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NOTE: This week this blog will present something a bit different; stories and poems celebrating the week before Christmas. Like many retired persons, I clearly remember reading these four tales. Three are famous. One is a story in which most people are aware of the name of the title character, but not her story. Please share them, and even read them aloud. Happy holidays!

This is a classic poem written in 1922 by Robert Frost. And one interpretation of this work is that Frost is describing Santa Claus, who is passing through the woods. The time period described here is the winter solstice when presumably Santa Claus is making his way to the village.

Some have suggested the horse represents the reindeer. It also seems possible that the narrator could be Santa Claus when he reflects on “promises to keep” and “miles to go before I sleep.”

Who knew?

Enjoy the poem. Maybe memorize it and recite it to your children and grandchildren.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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NOTE: For the next four days this blog will present something a bit different; stories and poems celebrating the week before Christmas. Like many retired persons, I clearly remember reading these four tales. Three are famous. One is a story in which most people are aware of the name of the title character, but not her story. Please share them, and even read them aloud. Happy holidays!

First published in 1845, this story’s title character is often familiar by name, but her story is not. In essence, it’s a tragic story about miraculous events.

The Little Match Girl
by Hans Christian Andersen

Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening– the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.

One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single farthing.

She crept along trembling with cold and hunger–a very picture of sorrow, the poor little thing!

The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year’s Eve; yes, of that she thought.

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant’s house.

Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.

“Someone is just dead!” said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.

She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an expression of love.

“Grandmother!” cried the little one. “Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!” And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety–they were with God.

But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother, she had entered on the joys of a new year.

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NOTE: The presentation of entertainment and poignant knowledge doesn’t change the world, but it does provide a little inspiration and a brief respite from a world that often needs a little changing.

This blog always takes a three-day weekend. Why? That almost makes no sense. After all, I’m retired and the weekend means less in my life than it does in the lives of those who are not retired.

But not really.

Weekends are, in fact, an ingrained mental state that apply to people of any age. Saturday and Sunday are days to relax, to do things that you don’t do during the week. It’s this common collective experience that consumes us all.

And so, I do not post new posts on Saturday and Sunday.

But relax, I’ll be back on Monday. Talk to you then.

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So here’s what this blog is.

A little wisdom. A little whimsy. A little pathos. A little whatever. Nothing necessarily special, although it’s often the nothing necessarily special which is the most interesting part. And all of it scribbled from the point-of-view of a retired person.

There’s a show on television called The Great Christmas Light Fight. On the show families compete over who can more extravagantly decorate their property with Christmas lights and decorations. There is a monetary prize and a trophy for the weekly winner.

Now I’m sure you might have decorated the outside of your house for the holidays. Some strings of lights, maybe a couple of wreaths, perhaps a lighted snowman, or even stringing lights on pine trees on your property. The whole set of decorations might have cost between $100 and $150, including extension cords. And in the off-season it all fits in a big box or two.

But the families on this show are different. They put the Griswold family’s lights in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” to shame. Most of these families have upwards of 100,000 lights (and I’ve seen as many as 250,000), Christmas inflatables in the thousands, full-size sleighs and reindeer, full-size snowmen by the dozen, carpets of lights bigger than the square footage of most homes, scores of statues and plastic figures. In most cases the decorations cover at least a couple of acres. And yes, their house must also be on the property.

I find this show to be fascinating, amazing, and cringeworthy. I cringe at the cost of light strings alone. I cringe at what the power required must be to run these extravaganzas, and what the cost of the electric bill must be to operate the whole thing. There’s also the set-up time which must, in almost every case, take at least a month of 40 hour weeks. It’s simply unfathomable. A number of the light shows are computer controlled and some are even synchronized with music. These displays are not incredible, unbelievable, or extraordinary. They are truly breathtaking.

But the oddest thing about the contestants is that most of them seem like regular middle-class families. They don’t live in mansions, nor do they look extravagant in how they talk and act. They tell how they started small and the whole thing just grew and grew until now, using one example, they have four semi trailers just to store the displays. They don’t at all seem like people who would spend upwards of $50,000 on lighting their property for the holidays.

But they do it. And I imagine they start in August so that the whole thing’s ready to go by Thanksgiving. Wow. Just wow.

Check the show out. It’s on ABC on Monday night.

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NOTE: The goodness of retirement is the joy of being able to do nothing. But the nothing we do is really the something that is our lives. This blog is an attempt to comment on that nothing that is something. And by reading it, I hope you too will think a bit about that something.

When you start your first job there’s often someone, almost always older, who helps you along, shows you the ropes, makes you better at what you do. This person gives you the tips, tricks, and strategies to be better and do better.

And as you get older, you may become one of these people yourself.

They’re called mentors.

And everything about a mentor is positive. The word itself is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser.” Mentors, in one form or another, are almost a requirement in some professions and occupations.

But in retirement, mentors do not exist.

There’s really no older people who can help other older people be better older people. There are financial advisers, but that’s about it. And financial advisers are not really considered by many as mentors.

So, why aren’t there mentors? Someone told me when I talked to them about this blog post idea that older people have too short attention spans to be mentors. (I actually took a tad bit of offense to that.) And no, I do not think that’s true.

And then there’s the idea that no one who’s retired really wants to talk about what’s coming. I get mail about being cremated. I get mail about long-term care facilities. I get mail about all sorts of insurance plans, and even insurance buyout services. But no one affiliated with those mailings is trying exactly to mentor me. And there’s none of that mail that I actually want to receive.

But wait.

Maybe I do have a mentor. And maybe she’s right here with me. Maybe my wife is my mentor. After all, she has introduced me to a whole scenario of things I now do and now know how to do. Who actually knew she did so much without my realizing it? (Let’s pretend I didn’t say that, okay?) I can wash and dry clothes, wash dishes, fold clothes, clean the house, shop for groceries, cook a little, and select all manor of home doodads, like a champ. Or should I say just like my wife always did.

But wait again.

She’s younger than me. Only by two years, but still. Mentors have to be older. Or do they? But I’m not even going there. I’m just calling my wife a great mentor. But just between you and me, don’t tell her I didn’t know how to do a lot of that stuff above. Okay?

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