Finding the Plan Me in Retirement

Song Lyric of the Day:

I might fear I go and my heart is white / And we race right out on the desert plains all night / So honey I am now, some broken thing / I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here / Now my heart is gold, my feet are right / And I’m racing out on the desert plains all night

Phosphorescent / “Song for Zula

Last year, amid all the fun of the pandemic lockdown, I went through a major life change: I retired. Retired from Discovery, anyway. I got an offer that was too good to refuse, and after countless discussions with the spouse, he encouraged me to go for it. So I’ve now officially been retired since November 6, 2020.

It wasn’t the easiest decision to make, and certainly not during a pandemic. But after almost 14 1/2 years with the company (née Scripps), this opportunity was the chance to make a leap I’ve been too scared — and far too comfortable — to make on my own. To say Discovery spoiled me is an understatement; I loved working there and can’t rule out going back someday. I mean, where else can I get Brady Bunch swag and play with puppies every spring? Not to mention the flexibility of working from home one day a week, and when needed due to illness, whether mine or the kids’, school cancellations, etc. I really loved and will miss the perks of working there. But mostly I miss my boss, work team, and my friends. And because of the pandemic, we didn’t even get to say goodbye in person, which was hard and probably why it didn’t *quite* feel like I’d separated from the company. Also, having worked from home since March didn’t help — there wasn’t a physical change of scenery, as it were. I went from working from home to not working from home. At least my wardrobe stayed the same.

I’ve never not worked. I’ve worked steadily since I was 16. So the first few days of retirement were weird. Rich would laugh at me since it was obvious I had NO idea what to do with myself. I found my footing pretty quickly, though, and am in a good routine now. I switch off with Rich in taking Sebastian to and picking him up from preschool. I run errands I used to only be able to do on weekends. I cook a LOT more. I enjoy daily lunches with Coraline; we’re currently bingeing Leverage. I’ve taken over most of our AirBNB management. I work on home improvement projects. I’ve started writing a lot more. And I never, ever, miss my morning nap with Capone.

Now that I have the gift of time, the list of things I want to get done and learn grows every day. My (now former) colleague Sandi coined the term Plan Me, and that’s exactly what I’ve started outlining in a journal. I want to learn how to edit videos, finish tracing my family tree, earn money from my photography, read ALL THE BOOKS, start new house projects, finish writing at least one of my novels, find freelance writing and editing jobs, and do so much more. The list grows by the day.

Here’s to the next chapter.

Discovery exterior

Discovery sign

Cube nameplate

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Looking Forward

Song Lyric of the Day:

Everything you need could be right in front of you / It doesn’t take much to see what is true / They say we are going to die if we go on like this / Who do you believe? Every story has a twist / Take a look around, tell me what you see / People in the world just trying to be free

Donavon Frankenreiter / “Love, Life & Laughter

Today is a good day four years in the making. Here’s hoping the next four years are much better — for all of us. Happy Inauguration Day to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

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The Last Sunday Sermon

“Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame. It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.

Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968

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The Current Normal

Song Lyric of the Day:

I had a premonition that we fell into a rhythm / Where the music don’t stop for life / Glitter in the sky, glitter in my eyes / Shining just the way I like / If you’re feeling like you need a little bit of company / You met me at the perfect time

Dua Lipa / “Levitating

How are you holding up during this never-ending pandemic? I like to think I’m OK most days, but then other days I want to scream. I’m sleeping horribly. I miss seeing family and friends. I miss the freedom to just go out whenever — and to wherever — I want, sans mask. I miss going to see movies in a theater. I miss my daughter being in school with her friends. I miss life in general as it was pre-pandemic.

I’ve taken to reminding myself that we are not in a new normal, we’re in a current normal. Wearing masks won’t last forever, although it feels like it will. Not being able to see family and friends whenever we want won’t last forever, although it feels like it will. Working from home won’t last forever, although it should (seriously — I never want to work full-time in an office again). Not being able to go to a restaurant or bar won’t last forever, although it feels like it will. And I refuse to believe movie theaters won’t survive this. Watching the disappointing Wonder Woman 84 at home convinced me of that. (Thank God Soul was so good. It made up for WW84. Freaky was also a fun, gory watch.)

I’m not one of those people who took up 30 new hobbies and started a garden while hand-sewing my kids’ clothes and making my own soap throughout lockdown. I’ve done the bare minimum: I’ve survived. I’ve worked. I’ve dropped off Sebastian at preschool. I’ve walked Coraline to virtual school, aka our dining room, every morning; I still eat lunch with her almost every day, save for when she chooses Minecraft over me. I’ve cooked more meals than I normally would (if I wouldn’t go bankrupt and die of heart disease, I’d get takeout a lot more). I’ve remembered to put on deodorant every morning and do not stay in my pajamas all day, although I am now comfortable wearing yoga pants to preschool dropoff and pickup. I gained nine pounds. I admitted to myself that I’m too cheap to buy new clothes, so I then started using our treadmill regularly and taking Capone on walks, as well as eating more keto meals, and lost 10 pounds. I’ve journaled every single day since I started on January 1, 2020. I’m trying to read more; having a house full of books and a library close by certainly help. I’ve enjoyed the extra time with my kids.

Mostly, though, I remind myself that this is NOT our new normal. I have no idea when this pandemic lockdown will end, but I know it will end someday. I know that whenever it does end, I won’t ever take boring, routine, everyday things for granted again. Lesson learned.

Happy Capone

Capone loves his current normal.

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Song Lyric of the Day:

Homegrown alligator, see you later / Gotta hit the road, gotta hit the road / The sun it changed in the atmosphere / Architecture unfamiliar / I can get used to this

George Ezra / “Shotgun

I haven’t traveled a lot the last few years. And you can guess how little I traveled in 2020. My last major trips were New Zealand and Toronto, Ontario, in 2014, Disney World in January 2018, and Toronto again in September 2019. Other than that, over the last few years we’ve visited my sister’s family in Huntsville, Alabama, and traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to visit close friends, and taken two trips to the beach. These days I fantasize about traveling, because OH MY GOD WE CAN’T GO ANYWHERE DURING THIS PANDEMIC. I’d love to plan a vacation for the family for sometime this year, but things are still so uncertain there’s really no point in planning anything.

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a lot overall in my life, though. Way back in (year redacted), when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, my mom scrimped and saved to send me on a French-class trip to Europe. Over the course of 16 days, we visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and England, in that order. I dream of being able to send Coraline and Sebastian on a trip like that someday, and I’m forever grateful to my mom for working so hard to make sure I could go. I was able to repay her in kind, to a degree, when my sister and I won a contest just by answering trivia questions over the phone related to our VHS rental of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We received a letter saying we’d won a prize and included paperwork to sign and return, so I was thrilled at the thought of winning a T-shirt or — a kid could dream — our very own VHS copy of the movie. (Yes, I’m old.) The next letter we received, however, informed us that we’d won a 7-day, 6-night trip for two to Paris, France. I remember reading it out loud and my mom screaming so loud I thought she’d just killed my dog, Spot, by way of a heart attack. Being that my sister and I were both minors, I couldn’t chaperone my sister around (sorry again, Sam!), but our mom could chaperone me around. The trip was a whirlwind (which my sister still hasn’t forgiven me for; did I mention I’m sorry?), which included us visiting Versailles, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Catacombs, and me vomiting on the Eiffel Tower. I’m not afraid of heights, so I think something I ate hit at a very unfortunate time. Again, my apologies to Paris.

Growing up, my family and I would visit relatives in New York City, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Puerto Rico; that last one was very infrequent since flights cost a fortune we couldn’t afford. When we got married, Rich and I took a 7-day honeymoon cruise throughout the Caribbean, including a day trip to Aruba that started out with a horrible beach, but ended with us at a much nicer one. He and I enjoyed a trip to Uruguay with a couple of close friends a few years later, and we made a few visits to New York City over the years, too.

When Coraline was almost one, we took her to visit family in Iowa. A few years ago, we traveled to Denver, Colorado, for her godmother’s wedding. Since Sebastian was born, our only trips as a family of four have been to Columbus and Huntsville.

The itch to travel isn’t due to a fear of missing out, though (I loathe the acronym FOMO), but, frankly, boredom. I work and spend time with my family, which is all well and good, but a change of scenery would be nice, especially these days. We enjoyed a taste of it with our trip to Disney World in 2018, although we did leave Sebastian with my sister and her family that week, because he doesn’t travel well and does horribly once off schedule; he still does, actually. The joke was on us, though, since a huge cold front hit while we were there, so we were grateful he was back in Alabama and not being dragged around in cold weather or holed up in a hotel room. (I was layered in four tops and two pairs of pants every day except our last day there.)

My trip to Toronto in 2019 was the first time Rich was alone with both kids. Ever. He had to travel internationally when Sebastian was a few weeks old, so by now Coraline, Sebastian, and I have it down pat when Rich is away, whether it’s for two days or two weeks. I admit, though, when I thought of Rich being left in charge, I thought of the house at the end of Poltergeist — you know, when it self-destructs. Problems with my control-freak tendencies, I know, although Coraline was excited at the thought of helping to run the house in my absence. Seriously — that kid knows everything about what goes on in the house. And of course, Rich handled everything splendidly while I was away. Although Sebastian has ordered me to never leave them again. Fingers crossed we’ll get to go on an adventure together someday in the near future.


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A Conversation With Coraline: Inappropriate Reading Material

“That book I picked up from the library is about the Green River Killer. It’s by a famous true-crime writer named Ann Rule. She wrote her first book after discovering that the nice guy she worked with at a crisis hotline was actually a serial killer. Turns out her friend Ted was Ted Bundy.”

“Wow. Really?”


“I want to read a book about Ted Bundy!”

“Sorry, kiddo. I’m pretty sure there’s not a ‘Who Was Ted Bundy?’ in that series you have about people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

“That’d be cool if it was a real book, though.”

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That Escalated Quickly

Song Lyric of the Day:

Where are You now / When darkness seems to win? / Where are You now / When the world is crumbling?

Lauren Daigle / “Look Up Child

So that was a year, huh? Last year  was so weirdly awful/awfully weird that it turned out my New Year’s non-resolution post was the one and only time I managed (bothered) to update. (Also, I’m still sticking to the non-resolution thing. It’s very freeing.) Of course, given that we went into pandemic lockdown in mid-March, it’s not like I had a lot of interesting stuff going on. Ergo, nothing much to write home (here) about.

Granted, lockdown could have been a lot worse. Rich and I were fortunate — and incredibly grateful — to still have full-time jobs. He’s been working from home full-time for his company for a while now, so he was already used to it. My last day in the office ending up being Tuesday March 10. I worked from home Wednesday, my usual day, then ended up working from home again on Thursday because Sebastian was sick. That afternoon work sent out an email that our work-from-home experiment on Friday would actually be an indefinite work-from-home period. And that was it. Our office remained closed the rest of the year. We got to go in and empty out our cubicles as part of a “clean cube” initiative, so that was a bit surreal. On my assigned day and time at the end of September, I was the only person in the wing where my cubicle was. It took me exactly one hour to pack 14 1/2 years’ worth of mementos, paperwork, and photos into two boxes, so I didn’t even get to say hi or bye to anyone. It actually ended up being more depressing than surreal.

Since everything was going into lockdown when Coraline’s spring break rolled around, we didn’t go to our cabin as planned. The Saturday at the end of spring break, though, we went out and enjoyed a day at Cades Cove. Nature put on quite a show for us that day, as if in anticipation of us not going anywhere again for the foreseeable future: We saw bears, deer, eagles, and even red wolves on that trip, the most animals we’ve ever seen there. It was glorious. The next month Rich and I celebrated our 20th(!) wedding anniversary with a homemade meal of fried chicken, one of my specialties.

We took (and continue to take) lockdown seriously, wearing masks when we ventured out for groceries and the occasional takeout order. We’re lucky that we were able to space out in our house, although when Sebastian is home I’m never truly alone. That boy is like a bloodhound — if I’m home, he’ll find me. We had a lonnnnng few weeks when preschool shut down to all but the children of essential workers. Sebastian needs structure and routine, and we couldn’t give him exactly what he needed as we were both still working full-time. It was a huge relief — for all of us — when he got to go back when preschool reopened to the rest of the kids about three weeks later. Of course, most parents were hesitant or unable to take their kids back, so Sebastian ended up being one of a handful of kids there for the next few months. We had complete confidence in how well the school was cleaning rooms and items, and they enforced the mask mandate for all adults. So we felt he was safe returning. Thankfully, he and all his little friends have remained healthy throughout. I’ve only heard of two parents having or being exposed to COVID since they reopened, and neither was related to any of the kids in Sebastian’s classroom.

I finally slid into a major depression in late July. We made the hard decision to have Coraline attend school virtually starting in August and a friend was diagnosed with cancer. Those events compounded everything else and, as a result, I turned into a weepy mess for a while. Everything felt horrible and hopeless, and not being able to see family or friends like I normally would have been able to didn’t help. Luckily I came out of my depression in a few weeks. That was … not a good time for me, though. Obviously.

In October we cracked: We decided to go to the beach for Coraline’s fall break. We rented an Airbnb so we had a house all to ourselves, and it was literally around the corner from the beach. So we’d just load up with our bags and umbrella and gear and walk over every morning. Since it was October versus June, July, or any summer month, really, we were there for off-season and didn’t have any problem with crowding and being around other people. It helped reset our sanity a bit, and I FINALLY got to see sharks in the wild, a bucket-list item of mine. I can die happy now having seen sharks in the wild. We saw some sharks enjoying a feeding frenzy off a fishing pier our antepenultimate day there, which was … surreal. And more intense than I would have thought. As much as I love sharks, now I KNEW they were literally in the neighborhood. So the next day — our last day going to the beach — I stayed in water that didn’t come up past my knee. That turned out to be the one day Sebastian REALLY wanted to go in the water to kick waves, so I did my best to distract him with building sandcastles and collecting shells. Coraline and Rich were far braver than I and went boogie-boarding as usual. I just watched and prayed a hungry shark didn’t wander too close and think either of them was a Lunchable.

On the drive to and from the beach we ate all our meals in the van, and when we ate at a restaurant at the beach we were always well spaced out since it was off-season and only the locals were still hanging around. We also ate at least half our meals at the house, alternating between cooking and working on whatever leftovers we had. We made it home healthy and the happiest we’d been in months. Back home we went back to our usual lockdown mode, though, and avoided seeing even our “pod” people (ha) for about two weeks after returning, just in case. For Thanksgiving we had a handful of our “pod” family members over, sticking to the suggested 10-or-fewer recommendation. For Christmas we only saw my parents. The kids handled that really well, considering they always get to see ALL of their cousins for the holidays. But they understood that 2020 was not a normal year. Having the first white Christmas in Knoxville in 10 years helped. Actually, I’d say Coraline has handled lockdown better than Rich, Sebastian, or I have. She’s done great in school, even making honor roll and winning good citizenship and perfect attendance awards (she always logs on early to not risk being late). She gets to see friends at kung fu, where everyone is masked and spaced out, and she sees her Girl Scout sisters at small meetings, as well as virtual ones. Whereas I’ve seen four friends since March, and I think Rich has seen three. Good times at Casa Lee.

I know things could have been much worse for us, so I’m grateful for having been able to work from home and keep my family as safe as could be. And at least we had that beach trip and that one perfect day at Cades Cove.

March 21, 2020

At Cades Cove, March 21, 2020


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2020 Vision

Song Lyric of the Day:

I dedicate my life to something richer / And all the things that come / Cuz that’s no price at all / And I know you’ll be there / And i want you to know I care because / Keep your head up, hold your head up even though / It’s a cruel world

Active Child / “Cruel World

The year is now 2020. Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? As it is, a new year means a new, clean slate. In keeping with my laid-back approach to resolutions the last few years, I’m not making any hard-and-fast resolutions. I have general goals, of course, like taking professional development and photography courses, learning how to budget (officially), to keep decorating our house and working on countless home improvement projects, to write more, to travel more, and be healthier all around, mind and body (the never-ending struggle). But I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t succeed at any, or, God forbid, all of these goals. Because I plan on doing the best I can, which will have to be enough.

My only real resolution for 2020 is to be happy, which means letting go of anger toward certain people and situations (SO HARD for me to do as it goes against my nature), and focusing on what’s healthiest for me and my family. Sounds easy enough, right? 🙂

Here’s to a great 2020!

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Toronto International Film Festival 2019 Mini Film Reviews for Day 4

I’m at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews of the movies I’ve seen so far. I’m breaking up the posts by the days on which I watched the movies. Descriptions by/from Reviews are my own rambling opinions.

Weathering With You

An old tale taken from Japan’s ancient Shinto myths and projected onto a bleak near-future of floods, pollution, and global warming, Weathering With You follows the difficult lives of a runaway and a lonely girl who has recently lost her mother.

Sixteen-year-old Hodaka arrives penniless in rainy Tokyo and finds shelter and employment with Suga, a detective who runs a sketchy occult magazine. Working on the urban legends column, Hodaka is asked to track down a rumoured hare onna, or “clear-weather woman,” someone with the magical powers to part the clouds and let bright rays of sunlight shine through. His investigation leads him to Hina, the kind-hearted, gentle girl who works at a burger shop and offered him food when he was starving. Hina has the power to control the sky — a gift that could bring unexpected wealth in a perpetually wet and overcast city like Tokyo.

My take:

(Full disclosure: I dozed off during the first 10-15 minutes of this movie. I’d had one and a half drinks during the day, and the lure of a dark theater was too much for me to handle. I managed to snap out of it and stay awake for the rest of the movie, though.) I loved the animation style, and the story was interesting, rooted in the urban legend of the sunshine girls (and boys). I genuinely cared about Hodaka and Hina, as well as the supporting characters, particularly Hina’s younger brother, Nagi, a pint-sized lothario. The movie had a good balance of realism, fantastical elements, and humor.

Worth seeing in a theater?

Yes. The attention to detail in this anime film is amazing. The story is made richer for it, so it deserves the big-screen treatment.

Pelican Blood

Wiebke (the ever-dynamic Nina Hoss, also at TIFF in Ina Weisse’s The Audition) is a horse trainer and adoptive mother to Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Giovanni Ocleppo). The two share a strong bond and live an idyllic life in the countryside. Together they plan on expanding their family to include Raya (Katerina Lipovska) and travel to the young girl’s native Bulgaria to bring her home.

Shortly after that trip, Wiebke learns that her new daughter suffers from an attachment disorder and cannot build emotional connections to those around her — further, she begins exhibiting shocking behaviour and grows increasingly violent, claiming her actions are motivated by the provocation of a dark spirit. After a specialist explains that Raya will have lifelong issues and does not feel empathy, Wiebke must decide whether she is willing to keep her new child and simultaneously risk Nicolina’s safety.

My take:

I found this movie interesting, but it didn’t rock my world. I found Raya unsympathetic enough that I didn’t want Wiebke to try and “fix” her. That said, young Katerina Lipovska is an amazing child actor, particularly for one so young. Other movies have tried and done better with the “evil” child aspect of this story.

Worth seeing in a theater?

No. It’s interesting enough to hold your attention, but wait until it’s streaming online.


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Toronto International Film Festival 2019 Mini Film Reviews for Day 3

I’m at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews of the movies I’ve seen so far. I’m breaking up the posts by the days on which I watched the movies. Descriptions by/from Reviews are my own rambling opinions.

Love Me Tender

Seconda (Barbara Giordano) is certainly not lacking in inspiration or energy, though she is bound to her family apartment and her cloistered routines. She is a 32-year-old woman with acute agoraphobia. One day, her mother dies and her father deserts her, leaving Seconda to battle her demons and fend for herself. She has sporadic connections with the outside world: a little girl who verbally attacks her from the courtyard and abusive phone messages from Henry (Gilles Privat), a debt collector who threatens action. Preoccupied yet burdened with her own survival, Seconda gets a chance for release when a homely bottle collector named Santo (Antonio Bannò) visits, but she must play her cards right. A maelstrom of circumstances changes everything and, after a lot of determination and gusto, anything is suddenly possible.

My take:

This movie got off to a slow start, as can be expected when your main character is an agoraphobe who won’t leave her home. Once she does leave, though, it gets much more interesting — and a lot funnier. I would have liked a more defined ending, although I can live with what I got. The movie’s saving grace is lead actress Barbara Giordano, who is captivating enough to hold your interest while using simple body language to get big laughs.

Worth seeing in a theater?

Only if you’re an art-house movie lover. I did enjoy the film, but I don’t think it’s one that needs to be seen on the big screen to be enjoyed.

The Giant

Charlotte’s (Odessa Young) life is changed forever when the teenager’s small Georgia town is shaken by the beginning of a series of murders on the same night that her missing boyfriend coincidentally reappears. As an unknown killer on the loose preys on young women over the course of a summer, Charlotte has to navigate this new danger while also struggling to recover from the trauma of her mother’s recent suicide.

My take:

Oh, where to start? The extreme close-ups that had me feeling more like a dermatologist than a moviegoer? The flared-up cinematography that didn’t really allow for much cinematography? The story that was so confusing I still don’t know what parts of the story even happened — the murders? Joe’s return? The blaring sound design that telegraphs a scene change or shift with a deafening crescendo? I kept waiting for something, anything to happen, but nothing ever did.

Worth seeing in a theater?

Hell no. Not unless you’re a film student and want to learn what NOT to do with your first feature-length film. Other than that, this was a waste of almost two hours of my life I can never get back.

Color Out of Space

When an iridescent meteorite plummets from outer space and into the property and foundations of a remote New England estate, a malignant force begins to insidiously permeate the lives of an unassuming family. The effects are gradual — time begins to dilate, nature assumes an otherworldly hue — and all things bright and beautiful eventually mutate and corrupt under its influence. So proceeds this eerie adaptation of the short story by H.P. Lovecraft, one of horror’s most haunting, here presented by the enigmatic South African filmmaker Richard Stanley. … The patriarch of this doomed brood is none other than Nicolas Cage, continuing his recent renaissance as a midnight-movie staple with an increasingly unhinged performance that reliably ricochets among every technique in the Stanislavski playbook. The rest of the ensemble, which includes Joely Richardson and Tommy Chong, play effective foils to Cage’s delirium, but the real star of the show is the alien entity itself. This all-consuming, dispassionate menace manifests itself in a series of grotesque, body-horror, and psychedelic spectacles, worthy of its ineffable literary origins.

My take:

I should have read the short story instead.

Worth seeing in a theater?

Only if you’re a die-hard Nicolas Cage fan or special effects aficionado.

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