Tag Archives: retirement

West Through Arkansas to Maumelle (Little Rock)

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We drove from Granada Lake only 40 miles (with a detour due to a bridge being out) in order to reach the George Wallace Campground on Enid Lake. Watching the weather, we decided to stay put for three more nights in Mississippi to give the north time to drain a bit. We spent those three days much as we had at Grenada Lake. We biked, we walked, we enjoyed the sunshine. Meanwhile north of us floods were happening all over Nebraska and the entire state was green with flood warnings on the NOAA site. By our third day the flood waters were starting to arrive in the Memphis area so it was time to leave.

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Our campsite in George Wallace Campground on Lake Enid

We decided to avoid the misery of the nightmare of crossing the Mississippi at Memphis. We planned our escape by going over Old Man River at Helena West and then traveling north west and meeting up with the I-40 as it follows the Arkansas River in the valley. I was expecting a few of Arkansas’ famous steep hills and a workout for my transmission. I was pleasantly surprised to find the road was not only lacking steep hills but it was in good repair. After crossing east through the two major Louisiana east west interstates it was a real pleasure. From now on, I cross that stretch through Arkansas.

We arrived at the Maumelle, Arkansas and pulled into our reserved campsite. We normally hate making reservations because it robs us of flexibility but Maumelle is a very busy place. Part of the reason for that is many of the campsites are reserved for people staying in Little Rock for medical treatment. They are long term sites. We met one little girl whose family had been living there for two years of schooling for her. We saw a lot of people with no hair and that thin ghastly look that so often comes with chemotherapy. It is a good thing they have a nice place to stay that must feel supportive of them as they get treatment for their disease.

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Our Maumelle Campground site near Little Rock, Arkansas

The weather report promised one day of rain with thunderstorms. We were under a severe thunderstorm watch overnight our first night. None actually came close to us but one storm did decide to drop a big chunk of hail. It hit smack on one of our vent covers. The vent cover was already sun crazed so the result was exploded plastic all over the roof. We discovered we had rain coming in just as we got into bed. A quick check of the radar showed that thunderstorm had passed but another was coming. So we quickly dressed and my husband spotted me as I got up on the roof. He passed me a cover from a big storage box that fit over the vent and then one of our 2″X10″X6′ levelling boards and I laid that on top to keep the cover in place. Just as we got back inside, the rain started pouring again but our quick temporary fix worked.

The next morning we made a fast trip to a nearby RV place to get a replacement and then I installed it. We had a lot to be grateful. The wrecked vent was right next to the bathroom sunroof which would have been a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult to replace. The break happened when we were parked so we knew right away instead of driving all day and arriving to a soaked interior. Last, the break happened near a big city with a well stocked RV store. On the same trip we made a short stop at a laundromat since our portable machine had died.

We enjoyed three lovely days of relaxing walks, extended periods writing, napping, and appreciating warm T shirt weather. It was then time to continue our journey home by leaving for the Springhill Campground, Barling, near Fort Smith Arkansas.

 

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On contentment.

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It’s May and that means my birthday is coming up. Mother’s Day is nearby. Hubby Dearest and I are coming up on a biggie, 25 years of legal marriage. All of these dates (except possibly my birthday) are artificial constructs that have little to do with my personal reality. Still, every May I can’t help but reflect on where I am, where I am going, and where I hope to be. This May has been a rather strange one because I feel happy where I am, I feel like I do not need to go anywhere. I have no greater aspirations than to finish the renovations on my little house. I am content. It is a very strange place for me to be in.

My childhood is not something I recall with joy. Mostly it was very difficult and I was “the shit faced brat”. (That is what make Mother’s Day so difficult for me that I won’t let my children celebrate it. We celebrate my birthday instead.) I mostly got picked on and mostly tried to just vanish and avoid being noticed as a child. My twenties were a period of my greatest joy because my babies came. As I loved them and raised them I also poured love on myself and nurtured the child within me by doing so. I also finally gave up on trying to hide who and what my brain was and I started back to school to get prepped for entering university. Finally, I closed off my twenties by leaving the husband who was not right, spent some time in a shelter for battered women, and then restarted my life with a new partner who was right for me. The twenties were a period of intense personal growth and greatest pain and disillusionment with what society had told me I ought to be, as well as being the time of my greatest joy.

My thirties were pretty good. I gave up trying to conform to outside ideas about who I should be. I started university. Growing up I recall my mother saying “You have to learn to hide those brains of yours. Men don’t like women who are too smart.” The only meaning and purpose to life for a girl was catching a man and then spend the rest of her tending to him and his children. I stopped listening to her and I stopped doing that. No more having the feet knocked out from under me every time I tried to stand up. I recently bought and I am now watching the entire collection of “The Waltons” TV series. As a teenager I loved that show. My aspiration was to be an Olivia Walton and marry a John Walton. I wanted to love and be loved and have a home. In my thirties I finally stopped lying to myself and instead I was busy cramming my brain full of stuff like biochemistry of nucleic acids and statistical analysis of genetic variants. Honestly, that was far better suited for my brain than the life of an Olivia Walton. I still occasionally wished I could have been an Olivia Walton. It certainly would have been easier and if I had married a John Walton I might still be in that place. But in my thirties I gave up on trying to be what I am not.

My forties were a time of change and growth. I completed my PhD. I am very proud of that document and yet it is a source of pain to me. On the one hand it is quite an accomplishment. On the other, the realities of academia came up and smacked me in the face. While you are a student there is always room for you, mainly because as a student you are expected to put in very long hours for very low pay. Plus you have a lot of latitude to make stupid mistakes and I did make a few. One you have that PhD though everything changes. The next step is a postdoc and I did a three year one on a full scholarship. The problem is postdocs live in a nether world. They are not students, they are not staff. They have no rights. I was told if I was not in before my supervisor every day, and if I was not staying past midnight at least twice a week I was “not hungry enough”. In academia only 0.02% of new PhDs get the magic “assistant professorship” that is the key step to success in the tenure track. Because the competition is so tight, and because the entire system runs on who you know, and where you fit in, not what you are, it’s very easy to get end up in 99.8% who get shoved off the ladder. When you are in it, you never think it might happen to you. And so you have three choices when reality hits, admit the whole PhD thing is a dead end and give up the dream, live forever as a postdoc, or become a “research assistant” whose entire existence is going from grant to grant of your supervisor, often working as hard as your supervisor, and getting little credit or recognition, facing being discarded the first time the grant committee changes and decides you are expendable, all for less pay than the lab janitor. Still I had awards, I had publications and I felt I was hot and ready to make it.

Reality bites and the simple fact of the matter is that in my fifties I decided to give up. I still had teenagers at home who needed a mother, a husband who loved me as much as John loved Olivia. If I stay after midnight instead of taking a break in lab work to go home and eat and sleep, I end up making stupid errors because I am tired. I end up having to throw out reagents worth more in a single experiment than I was earning in a month. Post doc’ing was not for me. I am not hungry enough to put with that kind of abuse.

I didn’t give up all at once. I am stubborn. I needed to smash my head a few times on that glass ceiling. I would submit my CV for a job, get the telephone call, get the interview. They loved my skill set, they couldn’t wait to meet me, they talked about all kinds of things like my potential for start up grants, and it was going to be great! They were so looking forward to having me on the team. Then when I walked into the room, faces would fall. They would squirm in their seat, act all polite and uncomfortable and I would never hear from them again. You aren’t supposed to discriminate against people based on age but it happens all the time. The kindest thing anyone ever did for me in academia was when a successful professor I admired listened to me complain about the peculiarity of being so positively received right up until the interview. Even the expensive power suit I bought didn’t help. I just didn’t get it.

“No one is going to hire a 47 year old who just got her PhD into a tenure track position,” he so very bluntly said. “They will have all kinds of politically acceptable excuses for discriminating against you. They will blame the grant agencies, they will blame the system, they will quote the studies that show people are most productive in their life when they have that PhD by age 26. They will rationalize away their bigotry. I have sat in on many hiring committees. The fact is no one is ever going to hire you because you are both female and too old.” The fact that potential jobs always started out very encouraging, and then their faces would crumble just looking at me for the first time, told me my honest friend was right. (Note to aspiring women scientists: Forget the PhD unless you can finish it before you turn 26 and go get a professional degree like engineering, nursing, medicine instead and then go into research. You’ll always have protection of your profession and a fall back to lean on between grants.)

Just as I was facing this, my husband hit another academic wall, the “You are too old and it’s time to retire” one. I knew I would never make it in and he was forced out. So I decided I would retire with him. He’s 16 years older than me and it seemed far more important to be with him during his retirement while he was still young enough to enjoy it rather than take more dead end post docs where I got paid less than the woman sweeping the lab floor. And so my fifties found me “retired” without a pension or pay, dependant on my husband’s income to live. Dependant on a man was a place I never thought I allow myself to be in again but here I am. Since then I have taken a few short term jobs but only ones I was interested in and that I wanted to do. And they all paid much better than a postdoc.

The teenagers grew up and didn’t need us so much. I have been blessed with a good life, mostly good enough health, three wonderful children and a wonderful step son. I have three lovely daughters-in-law who treat me very nicely and respectfully. The kids all turned out very well. All of them tax payers, self supporting, not one in prison, and all doing well at what they are doing. We had freedom and so we decided to “follow the dream”. We spent five wonderful years living full time in our travel trailer. It has been great! We got to every state in the lower 48 and we have been blessed to see and do things most people never get to do. I wouldn’t give that up for a second. Still, after five years of arriving in winter and leaving in winter in a poorly insulated travel trailer, the rambling life got wearing and we needed a home base. So when the chance came up to purchase a little house with a big driveway for the trailer in lovely little town we jumped at it. So now we are part time full timers and part time stick house people.

The little house was well built and solid as they come and I love it. It had nothing wrong with it except for cosmetic things. And if I ever say that again I hope someone kicks me hard. However as I close in on 58 we have almost finished all that cosmetic work. The place has new windows, fresh paint, new flooring and it feels very much like our home. One room to go for the paint and two rooms for the flooring. One very nice thing that happened was hubby dearest and I wrote the book about our mutual research. We figured out differentiation and we’re right and we’re proud of it and it’s all in that book. Plus the royalties thus far paid for the new flooring in our little house.

Watching The Waltons I find myself reflecting on my life and how much it is like Olivia Walton’s now. I bake. I garden. I cook. I fix up my little house. Small town life is as slow and easy as Walton’s Mountain except that I look at Riding Mountain. Unlike Olivia Walton, I have Google Scholar and Facebook and Pubmed meaning the world is as close as my computer. I indulge my mind a few times a day. My husband spends his days deeply immersed in astrobiology. As a young man he had to choose biology or astronomy and he pursued biology because that interested him more. These days, astrobiology couldn’t be more perfect for a theoretical biologist with no lab. Our house is filled with the sounds of NASA on line conferences instead of depression era radio shows. We are both free of grant deadlines, university politics, and hiring committee meetings.

Yesterday I spent my day repotting seedling tomatoes, planning the menu for our Silver Anniversary, cutting new trim to fit over the new flooring, chatting with a neighbour, watching flocks of juncos and pine siskin feast at my bird feeders, doing a literature review on tick bourn diseases, chatting with a young woman on line about her pregnancy (which is going just fine) and debating the relative merits of pipelines versus tanker transport of crude oil. The strangest thing of all for me as I contemplate my birthday is this wonderful slow growing sensation of contentment. Back in the days, I used to watch one soap opera daily so I would have something to chat about at the Tuesday morning bible study for young mothers. (I could never discuss the stuff from the nonfiction section of the public library that I was secretly devouring hence the one soap a day.) When characters said they were happy, they were no longer interesting and they either vanished or were due for a cancer diagnosis or a terrible car crash, a kidnapping or a bad case of amnesia. But life isn’t a soap opera and so I will say it. I am content. I am happy. I have never been in this place before and I am enjoying it.

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Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama

We spent four days going from Texas to Florida. We were now in travel mode and out of tourist mode, since we had done this route before. Our preferred travel mode is to drive no more than 600 km (372miles) and often less for a day, stop for a meal at a restaurant with internet where we get caught up with the world, park at a nice campground for two nights, spend the day in between nights hiking, canoeing if suitable water is available, relaxing, walking the dogs, and writing. The break from the internet is so refreshing. We both get a lot of writing done on stop days. We restrict shopping to travel days combining shopping with washroom breaks. The two biggest expenses of travel are gas fill ups and the fee for campgrounds. This mode also drops our fill ups to every other day and since national forests cost us about $10 a stop with Dick’s senior Passport America so it is a cheap way to travel.  This relaxing mode of travel means we don’t get anywhere fast but we enjoy ourselves as we go.

Our first night was the picturesque small city of Alexandria. We camped in the Kincaid Lake Recreation area in the Kisatchie National Forest. The spot is an exceptionally nice transition zone between deciduous forests of oak, maple, sycamore and cypress swamp pine and slash pine forests. We took a long long walk along the beach area which was technically closed but no one chased us away.

From there, we headed to Mississippi. We soon found ourselves dealing with the reason I absolutely HATE Louisiana travel. I don’t know what they spend their money on down there but it is not their interstate. The I10 interstate was in horrible shape, just as I recalled it from last year, and that part of the trip consisted of bone rattling whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp for miles and miles punctuated by many bridges where the road did not match the bridges, leading to massive bangs, clangs and jerks. Add to that more truck traffic than I have ever seen on one place, including Boston, and it sure was a relief to get into Mississippi and hit smooth pavement. The only good thing about that trip was that by cutting across to Alexandria we avoided 75% of the nightmare drive we endured last trip.

We stopped at another National Forest campground, this one called Big Buloxi in the Desoto National Forest. Wow has the Gulfport area ever exploded with life. We saw new businesses popping up everywhere and not a single foreclosure sign. We had a very relaxing stay before heading on to Alabama.IMG_0934

Two years ago Dick and I had the pleasure of traveling Alabama from north to south and we have crossed it at three points. We love Alabama. Highways are great and there are many wonderful campgrounds and lovely sights to see. However we were not doing Alabama this trip. We drove the interstate towards Florida, took that big tunnel through Mobile for the third time and after a brief stop for lunch in Daphne Alabama (which is as pretty as it sounds) we left the interstate and started traveling Rt 98 along the coast. Rt 98 is one of the loveliest, most picturesque routes in the USA with long stretches following the coastline and gorgeous views of the Gulf of Mexico. It also passes through every little fishing village, town, and shopping centre in the coast so stretches are packed full of busy people going about their lives. This means lots and lots of miles with traffic and noise and 35mph zones and red lights. You also have to really watch those speed limits signs because speeding tickets are a major source of income. (We haven’t had one yet but I am extra careful.) Still, we felt very much at home. We crossed into Florida absorbing the sights of the panhandle with relish and relief. We had finally reached our southern winter home.

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Niagara Falls

It’s a tourist Icon, a tourist trap, one of those places that is a touchstone of a nation. This is my third trip and each time I have found myself reflecting on my life and where I am.

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This picture was taken in 1974 and was my first trip to the falls with my brothers. It was a big event then.  We were on our way to Saskatchewan to visit my father’s family. I learned a lot about my family and where I came from. I also learned to read a map. I was 14 going on 45 and ready to be an adult. Of course the world did not yet take me seriously.

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In 1990, sixteen years later, I Dick and I went with my kids to Kingston to present our discovery of the waves that would later become the topic of our book Embryogenesis Explained. I was a young divorcee with three young children. Dick and I were early in our relationship so it was a scary but wonderful time for me. I was a second year undergrad. I had just published my first abstract.  It felt like my life had turned around and we were going to be okay.Kingston_0074

Now I am back again at the falls in 2015, twenty five years later. It has been a wonderful mostly happy rollercoaster ride. The kids are grown. They turned out fine and I am so proud of them. I have grandchildren their age. I finished the PhD and earned that big “Dr.” in front of my name. We are retired. The book is done and the story of the waves and their role in embryogenesis is complete. I carry 30 pounds more than last trip and I have a lot of well earned wrinkles and grey. Wow!

I won’t get into visiting the falls. There are dozens of websites about visiting the falls, what to see, where to get good deals, what the latest and best things are. I’ll just share some shots of this trip and hopefully I will have a chance to get back again someday and add a few more pictures to the set. I will say this. Hang on and enjoy the years because they sure do fly past quickly!

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