Today I turn fifty.
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. There are a lot of fifty year olds out there. Almost everybody else in the Class of ’82 has already turned that corner. My wife has already turned fifty. (And that’s all I have to say about that.) It’s never happened to me before, though, and it got me to thinking.
Other milestone birthdays that are known to instigate mid-life crises have come and gone with barely a thought from me. Thirty was no big deal at all. When I was on trail crews, all of my bosses were over thirty and they could still work and hike me into the ground at twenty-two. Thirty wasn’t old at all. At forty, I was married with two little kids and had settled into a career. I still had a lot to view ahead of me.
The kids are getting ready to move out. Josh’s departure is probably right around the corner. Grace will only be a couple of years behind (and she’s noticing boys now). I will be eligible to retire from State service in five years…and oh, how it would be nice to meet that goal. Whether we will be able to afford it in five years…that’s the real question! (Retirement, BTW, is going to simply switching careers—hopefully writing—and supplementing that income with my pension.)
The biggest thing I’ve noticed about myself at fifty…my ‘bullshit tolerance’ is lower than it has ever been. I don’t have time for it, especially for cyclical bullshit that I have learned is guaranteed to come around again in the next turn of the wheel. Cyclical bullshit occurs mostly in bureaucracy and politics. I’ve wasted so much of my life stressing over things totally beyond my control. No more of that nonsense. That leads to three things I’ve learned in my half century that I am still working on in my life.
Think locally. Live deliberately. More time in the kitchen.
Think locally. Do you have any idea how much stress is caused in America fretting over what the idiots in Washington are doing? Or what Hollywood or Nashville are doing? There is not much impact I can have in what’s going on in those places. I’ve spent at least thirty years deluding myself into thinking that Western civilization rose or fell depending upon whether the right people (read that, “my people”) were running the show in Washington. Guess what? It doesn’t do me a bit of good getting heartburn over what Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken are up to, or whatever agenda they are pushing today. Years of my listening to talk radio didn’t make a lick of difference over what happened to this country, but it sure did keep me riled up and unhappy with my own life. No more. I kicked the Limbaugh habit years ago and have never felt better. I have friends that keep trying to nudge me Left, but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, either.
So much of what people get upset over are things that you and I have no way of knowing all of the truth about, anyway. Take Ferguson, Missouri. As I write this, we are expecting to hear from the grand jury if the cop is going to be charged with a crime concerning the shooting of Michael Brown. If you are committed body and soul to one side or the other in this issue and don’t live in Ferguson, I guarantee you are making your decision based upon incomplete and/or twisted facts. I have a friend that lives in Ferguson and works for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and he has said that he does not even recognize his own town in most of the outside reporting on this case. Both sides paint biased pictures of the town and the people involved. In my job with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, I have first-hand experience of being involved in issues reported in the local media in which the media did not bother to get any deeper than the surface appearances of the issues involved. What could have been good and helpful stories for the public to know were incomplete, and therefore inaccurate. I have learned that you can only trust the media so far, and the farther from your home the reporting is, the more error tends to creep into reporting.
I’ve discovered that there is a wonderful local music scene around Redding and Chico. The big names in music are indeed good, but there is plenty of local talent worth supporting, as well. There is a lot of good bluegrass and blues music being played right in my own backyard. I have acoustic and electric guitars now. I can get good enough to have fun and jam with people right around me. Two local groups that I know are recording albums right now. Chad Bushnell is pure country, and he went to school with a friend of mine’s son. Wild Card is a fun local band that plays classic rock, blues and country, and plays them all well. I’m looking forward to hearing what they release!
Live deliberately. This is the best advice from Thoreau’s Walden. Don’t live your life in automatic. Think about what you do. Think about why you do it. Do you buy any kind of produce at the store you want, at any time of the year? Why? Because you can? Do you realize that produce that you buy which is out of season had to be transported in from someplace far away where it is in season? Why not just adjust yourself to the natural cycles surrounding you?
More time in the kitchen. This one sounds odd, doesn’t it? So many modern conveniences are marketed as a way to spend less time in the kitchen. Why? So we can spend more time watching TV? Please, don’t buy into that backwards thinking. I’ve learned that kitchen time is not a waste of time, it’s an investment of time. When I start with raw ingredients, I know for sure what is going into my family’s food…especially when I buy locally and know the farmers who grew it. I can’t know that when ingredients are imported from Chile, or even Iowa. Thinking locally and living deliberately come into play here.
Michael Polan has a helpful piece of advice for enjoying our ‘bad’ foods while still reducing our consumption of them. Enjoy your cookies and cake…whenever you bake them yourself. Make it a policy to never buy your junk foods from the store. If you are going to take the time to make them…enjoy. That’s what I was thinking when I made the butter pecan ice cream the other day.
Kitchen time is also a relaxing time for me with music and maybe a couple of beers. I get lotsa thinking time in the kitchen. I got out of the habit of menu planning for a couple of years, and our consumption of processed foods went up because we would find ourselves in the “What are we having tonight?” quandary. We would have to whip something up at the last minute and it’s too easy to fall back on Hamburger Helper when you do that. I got out the dry erase calendar again and plan out meals for the month. This makes shopping easier and actually saves us money there. I can look ahead and see what meals are coming up and plan ahead. I can spend time on the weekends making sauces or other recipe parts in advance. (This is time that I would otherwise use to head down to town and waste money.) There is even flexibility built into my calendar. For instance, last Friday I roasted a chicken. The calendar for Saturday says ‘leftovers’, and I was thinking of leftover chicken pieces with another veggie for a side. It turned out that there was enough leftover chicken that Patsy was able to strip enough meat off the bones to make a chicken casserole…that lasted for two days! Woo-HOO!
Life is good at fifty!