Pathfinding

My latest project is the classic definition of a “yard project.”  It is absolutely not necessary.  In fact, some people would undoubtedly consider it to be pointless “busy work.”  Life could go on quite easily without it, and no one — not the birds, or the trees, or the insects that call the down yard home, or the folks who live in the neighboring homes — would care.  But it’s something I have pictured in my head, I want to see if I can bring it to fruition, and I like having a project to work on during my leisure time.  How many “yard projects” start in that way?

Basically, the project is focused on doing something interesting and hopefully attractive with the area shown in this photo, which is at the bottom of a very steep, rocky outcropping.  The first step happened several years ago, when Russell and I chopped down the scrubby trees that had overgrown this area between the rocks.  Last year I tried to keep the remaining tree roots from sprouting new trees, and this year I’ve dug out all of the stumps and tree roots of the scrub trees — about 20 stumps and root systems in all — to create an area for some planting.  Most recently, I’ve been building stone paths that will allow us to readily reach the little garden plot where we have planted Russell’s vegetables, and in the process make some productive use of the abundant supply of rocks we’ve got around here.  The next step will be to figure out what kind of ground cover, consisting of hardy, and hopefully somewhat colorful, native plants, can be planted in the areas between the paths and on some of the rocky slopes around the areas.

Digging out the stumps was hard work that left me as dirty as an adult can reasonably get, but each day I made some progress, and each stump that was successfully removed was satisfying.  The pathbuilding was challenging, but also interesting because it involved trying to find routes for the paths that made use of the existing boulders that are found in the area and also worked around the root systems of the two large birch trees that are immediately overhead.  So, perhaps “pathfinding” is a better word for the work.  And trying to find the right rocks to fit in the right spaces has been a nice creative exercise.  

I’ve enjoyed working on my utterly gratuitous “yard project,” and at night I look down on the area, compare it to the mental image that got this whole process started in the first place, and look forward to the next step. 

The Lure Of Lobstering

The official welcome sign outside of Stonington says the town is Maine’s largest lobster port, and the visual evidence around here supports that assertion. You see the paraphernalia of the lobster business pretty much everywhere, from the lobster boats at anchor in the harbor to the brightly colored buoys, coiled ropes, and stacked rows of lobster traps seen on the properties around town. Especially traps. More traps than you can imagine!

And it appears that the younger generation is embracing Stonington’s traditional occupation. According to statements from this year’s graduates published in the local newspaper, a number of the 2020 graduates of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School — both male and female — are planning on “lobstering” as their career. It’s the kind of future plan you wouldn’t see from a student in, say, Columbus, Ohio.

My hat is off to the kids who are going into the lobster trade. It’s a tough, physically demanding job that requires you to get up before dawn and spend your days on the water, going from buoy to buoy, hauling traps up from the ocean floor, removing any catch, rebaiting the traps with yukky objects that lobsters like, and winching the traps back down again. But it makes a living, and you get to be your own boss. From the decisions of the local high school kids, that’s still an attractive option.

Tiered Up (Cont.)

I’ve finished with my tiers project — for this weekend, at least — and am reasonably happy with the results. I created the beds, planted some spider plants I picked up at the farmers’ market from the local garden club, and replanted the ferns. Unfortunately, my efforts to replant the wild rose bushes failed. The root systems of the rose bushes are just too difficult to dig out. And speaking of digging, I successfully removed some tree stumps, too, which was satisfying.

After two solid days of yard work, I’m ready for a celebratory beer.

Tiered Up

My gardening challenge this weekend: figuring out what to do with an area of tumbledown rocks and boulders that abruptly drop about eight feet in height from top to bottom. My plan is to try to use the enormous rocks and the drastic change in height to establish tiers dropping down the slope like the steps of a staircase. The tiers will then become beds where I can plant flowers and attempt to replant some of the lupines, rose bushes, and ferns that have sprung up in some of our other garden beds.

So far I’ve placed some smaller rocks to define the outlines of the tiers, using the big rocks as immovable borders, and have started shoveling dirt into the newly created spaces to form the beds. This weekend I hope to complete the bed formation and do the rose bush and fern replants. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I should have two full days for the work.

This is the kind of project I really like. There’s a creativity element to it, some problem-solving and design challenges, a physical labor component, and then finally a chance to see if an experiment succeeds or fails. I’m looking forward to getting to it.

New Beds In The Downyard

It was a glorious weekend in Stonington, with sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s — perfect weather for yard work and gardening.  We seized the opportunity to do some gardening work in the down yard that we’ve been wanting to do for some time. 

Our outdoor work began on Saturday, with some weeding and clean-up work in the areas that we were going to tackle, followed by a trip to the Mainescape garden store in Blue Hill.  We donned our masks, headed into the store’s extensive outside plant display areas, and were immediately overwhelmed with the choices. 

As Kish aptly observed, for a novice like us, going to a garden store is like a non-gearhead going to buy a car.  You’ve got only the most superficial sense of what you want, without any real insight into which options would best serve your needs.  Mainescape takes a decidedly low-key approach, so we spent a lot of time wandering around looking at the potted plants and trying to figure out which ones would work best in the spaces we identified for some new beds. 

We had decided, in advance, that we wanted to get perennials, rather than annuals, and would try to focus on hardy native plants that would be best suited to surviving the rugged Maine weather.  We settled on some Goldsturm black eyed susans, some purple Phlox — which has to be the greatest name for a flower, ever — some Husker red beardtongue (also a great, and curiously evocative, name for a flower), which is supposed to produce a tall array of small white flowers, and a white lupine.  There’s lots of green in the down yard already, between the grass and the ferns and the shrubs and the trees, so we figured white, purple, and yellow would stand out well.  We also bought some gardening soil and cow manure mixture to provide the most welcome setting possible for the new plants.

Yesterday was spent spreading the garden soil and cow manure and doing the planting.  Between carrying bags of soil and manure and then lugging and repositioning rocks to outline the new flower beds and also display some of the rocks we dug out of our yard — not to mention lots of stooping and digging — gardening gives you a pretty good workout.  It’s also a fun, creative outlet, as you figure out which flowers to put where and also think about whether you can add some little flourishes to make your garden areas special.

For me, a big part of the whole gardening experience is trying to make the garden and flower beds fit into your intended space in a natural way.  I admire the Japanese approach of trying to make your garden an extension of nature and the natural, physical surroundings.  In the down yard, the principal physical characteristic is rock — lots and lots of rocks, large and small.  Using rocks as a key feature of the flower beds therefore wasn’t a difficult decision.

I decided to use some of our rocks to edge the new flower beds, but also use the beds to frame and display some of the more interesting granite rocks we’ve found in the yard, in terms of their different shapes — like the round rocks shown in the photo above — and their different and often striking colors and patterns.  The whiter rocks show up very well against the green grass and provide a nice contrast with the black garden soil. 

I also like symmetry, so we positioned the plants we put into the crack between the two gigantic granite rocks so that the flowers would be a kind of mirror image from the middle out, with the two tall beardtongues in the middle, one of the phloxes to each side of the beardtongues, and then the black eyed susans at the two ends of the bed.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to enjoy the mix of colors and the symmetry when we look at this particular flower bed from the vantage point of our deck.

It was a full weekend of yard work and gardening.  I endured a lot of bug bites, but it was a lot of fun and quite satisfying, too.  I’ve posted some before and after photos of two of the areas to give an idea of what we did.  Now, we’ll need to work on watering.  

Tie Died

Yesterday the Bus-Riding Conservative (who hasn’t been riding the bus much these days since the office has been closed) sent around a picture of himself wearing a mask and a suit and tie.  He was donning his lawyer garb and mask to attend an important meeting, and he looked like a dashing corporate raider or somebody getting ready to rob a high-end country club — after cocktails, of course.

title-image-1But the BRC made a somewhat shocking confession in conjunction with sending his photo.  He admitted that it actually felt good to put on a tie after enduring a long, tieless period.

I’m surprised that the BRC’s astonishing statement didn’t produce thunderbolts from on high or breathless news reports that hell had frozen over, because it is likely the first time in the history of western civilization that a man has said that it felt good to put on a scrap of colored cloth that is specifically designed to cinch down on your windpipe and your sagging neck wattles and serves no functional purpose whatsoever, other than to become stained by splashes of food during power lunches.

The BRC’s mind-boggling confession got me to thinking, and I realized two things.  First, I don’t miss wearing a tie in the slightest, although I will certainly put one back on, as part of the lawyer’s uniform, when things get back to some semblance of normalcy.  And second, this has undoubtedly been the longest I’ve gone without wearing a tie in decades.  This coming week will mark my three-month anniversary in the untied category.  That hasn’t happened since at least law school — which ended, incidentally, during Ronald Reagan’s first term — and maybe since college, back in the Carter Administration.  And even in college, we periodically had parties following a Blue Brothers theme where the costume required attendees to put on a hat, tie, and sunglasses.  We may be going all the way back to high school.

I’ve written before about what parts of the new, coronavirus world will continue, and what parts will end when a vaccine is invented or “herd immunity” is achieved.  Even before COVID-19 struck, there was a strong push against standard business attire — including tie — and in favor of general “business casual” requirements, in which the tie went the way of the Dodo.  It will be interesting to see whether we’ve seen the last gasp of the necktie in the business world, and it turns out to be one of the many victims of the coronavirus.

If it is, there won’t be many male mourners — other than the BRC, of course.

A Working Man’s Cure For Insomnia

From time to time I experience insomnia.  After a while, you get used to it.  You wake up at 1:30 a.m., fully alert, and after trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep you yield to the inevitable, get up, and do something until you feel like you can fall back asleep again.  I think insomnia occurs when something important is happening, and my subconscious brain just won’t stop fretting about it even while my conscious brain is asleep.

img_9638But, for me, at least, there is a cure for insomnia:  physical labor, preferably outside.

The last few days I’ve been fighting the dandelion wars out in the yard.  This involves bending over and, frequently, getting down on hands and knees to find the roots of the dastardly dandelions, then using a gardening tool as a lever to try to pop them out.  Often that’s a struggle, as you dig around in the hard ground trying to find the root — because if you don’t find the root those dandelions are just going to crop up once more and you’ll have to do the whole exercise over again.  Fill a bucket with the dandelion roots, flowers, leaves and other remains, walk down to deposit them in our compost pile, and then start over again in another part of the yard.  Do that for a few hours on a bright, sunny day and you’ll discover muscles in your back and legs and hands that you’ve forgotten you had.  Do that for a few days and hands that haven’t known callouses for decades might actually begin to develop a few, and hamstrings will be crying out for relief.

And at night, when darkness falls, you’ll find that you’re so exhausted that sleep comes easily and the nocturnal bouts with insomnia simply don’t happen.  It’s as if the physical fatigue overwhelms any effort by the subconscious mind to force you awake, so you sleep well — other than a leg cramp or two.

It’s just one of the many benefits of physical work — and obviously weeding doesn’t even hold a candle to the degree of effort needed to work on a construction crew or a farm.  People who do that for a living must sleep like rocks.

My Last Trip To NYC

I flew to New York City on February 19, 2020 on a business trip that would be just like a hundred business trips to Manhattan that I’ve taken before.  My flight arrived at a packed LaGuardia Airport, and I steered my roller bag through concourse traffic, trying to navigate past the slow movers and the gawkers.  I used the bathroom at the terminal, standing shoulder to shoulder with other random travelers needing to answer nature’s call, washed my hands without thinking about whether I was spending 20 seconds on that task, then moved with the flow of travelers down to the baggage claim level and outside the terminal.  

I stood in line at the taxi stand with perhaps 25 other people patiently waiting to get a ride into the City.  I took the cab that was next in line when my turn came, without giving a second thought to who might have sat in the passenger seat before me, or when the cab was last cleaned.  I arrived at my hotel, located about a block from Times Square, and waited in the crowded lobby to check in.  Because it was a nice night and I wanted to get some exercise before dinner, I walked over to Times Square, stood among hundreds of other residents and visitors moving through that NYC landmark, and took this picture of the heroic George M. Cohan statue in the middle of the Square like a true tourist.  I then walked around the area, thinking about how hard it is to take an enjoyable walk in New York City because of the crowded sidewalks.  I even wrote a blog post about it the next day.   

I ate at a random restaurant suggested by the hotel concierge, without thinking about how close the other patrons were, or noticing whether they were sneezing, coughing, or having trouble breathing.  I slept in my hotel room, made coffee the next morning using the coffeemaker in the room, plugged my computer cord and smartphone cord into the outlets, then spent the whole day in a conference room that was full to the brim with about 20 people sitting right next to each other.  We all got coffee from a shared coffee urn and poured cream from a common cream container.  At lunch we got sandwiches and cookies from a common tray.  At the end of the day I took another cab back to the airport, stood in the TSA pre-check line with other passengers breathing in that LaGuardia terminal indoor air, and then navigated through the crush to get to my gate.

I was aware of the coronavirus at that point, but the only time I thought about it during the whole trip was at the gate, when I sat in one of the common seats in the gate area and wondered about the people who had sat in the seat that day, and where they might have been traveling from.  But it was a fleeting thought that passed by, and I then concentrated on checking and answering the emails that had stacked up during the day.  My flight was called, I stood in line to board with my group, and then sat in close proximity to other weary travelers on the 90-minute flight home.  To my knowledge, no one on the flight was wearing a mask.

As I sit and think about what was a pretty routine, uneventful trip to Manhattan only two and a half months ago, it seems like a totally different world.  I don’t know if or when I’ll take another business trip to New York City, but I can be sure of one thing — it won’t happen with the kind of carefree nonchalance that I felt, without thinking about it, on that last trip, or during the hundred or so trips that preceded it.

No Trip On The Horizon

There have been so many things to adjust to, and so many changes have occurred, since the coronavirus pandemic invaded our existence and altered our routines.  Among other things, COVID-19 has caused me to violate a longstanding rule of personal conduct:  for the first time in I don’t know how long, I don’t have a vacation or interesting travel to a new place on the immediate horizon.

Global pandemics really have a way of messing with your plans, don’t they?

cases-packed-by-the-door-ready-to-travel_t20_4eowzaA decade or two ago I realized that I felt better about work if I had always a trip on the calendar for the near future.  Since that day, I’ve made sure that I have some impending travel to anticipate that will break up the daily routine.  I’ve tried to plan the trips so that they occur regularly at the intervals of a few months.  They don’t need to be big trips, either — maybe a weekend trip with a group to a new place, or a visit to see friends for a few days, or a wedding, mixed in with a longer vacation now and then.  I found that having something fun and different to look forward to allowed me to avoid getting stale and ground down by work and helped me to stay sharp and maintain a positive mental attitude.

But the coronavirus changed all that and scrubbed the social calendar clean, like a giant hand wiping off one of those dry erase boards.  A weekend trip to Austin earlier this month was the first casualty, followed quickly by the cancellation of a wedding in Chicago in May and an annual meeting in Asheville in June.  And even the plans that remain on the calendar are fraught with total uncertainty.  We’ve got a trip overseas planned for the fall that we hope will go forward, but who really knows?  With the predictions of a second round of COVID-19 and talk of potential foreign travel restrictions, I’m not betting my bottom dollar on anything travel-related right now.

I freely admit that, relatively speaking, this is a very minor thing, and one I will gladly accept in exchange for making sure that we and the friends we’d be seeing all stay safe and healthy.  But it’s another way that the pandemic has upset the apple cart and forced unwanted changes.  I’ll manage without a trip or two on the calendar, but I definitely look forward to the day when I can feel, once again, that I am working steadily toward some enjoyable travel on the horizon.

What Day Is It, Anyway?

One of the more surreal aspects of working from home every day is that it’s easy to lose track of what day of the week it is.  When there are no in-person meetings, no lunches, and no travel, every day seems pretty much the same — and Tuesday is a lot like Thursday.

Fortunately, in German Village we’ve got a simple way to tell the day of the week — our refuse cans.  They serve a function akin to a runic calendar, where the positioning of items is the key indicator.  You know it’s a  Monday when the blue cans, for recyclables, are hauled out and positioned to be moved to the curb for pick-up, and you know it’s Tuesday when they’re put out on the edge of the sidewalk.  By Tuesday afternoon, the blue cans are scattered and empty, and by Tuesday night they’ve been moved back and the green cans for regular garbage have been moved to the on-deck position.  On Wednesday mornings the green cans have taken their places curbside, and by Wednesday night they’re empty and strewn willy-nilly along the sidewalk.  By Thursday morning — we hope and expect, at least — all of the cans, of whatever color, have been returned to their standard positions.  That’s how I knew that it was Thursday when I went for my walk this morning.

Thank goodness that trash collection is considered an essential service!  Otherwise, I might really have to think hard to determine the day of the week.

There’s no trash can indicator for Friday, by the way — but no rational person needs a clue about Friday, anyway.  If you’be been working as long as I have, you’ve got an instinctive, infallible inner clock that tells you that the work week has ended and the weekend is here.  And no stupid pandemic is going to interfere with that!

A Mask Of My Own

I’ve written before about Handy Heidi — my lovely and talented sister-in-law — and her magic paint brush.  Her skills extend beyond painting, however, to also include sewing.  And in yesterday’s mail I received the latest fruits of her labors:  my very own coronavirus mask, courtesy of Handy Heidi’s magic sewing machine.  Thanks, Heidi!

It’s a sturdy mask, in suitably sober colors, as befits its sober purpose.  I know that some people have opted for more brightly colored masks, but that’s not where my head is at, frankly.  If I need to wear a mask on my walk to work or around the office, I don’t want it to look like I’m celebrating.  And the black on one side, brown on the other side color scheme will match my boring lawyer suits.

I’m not keen on wearing a mask, but if that’s what it takes to open Ohio and America for work again, I’m all for it.  

Patience By Ironing

Like most people who have been cooped up by COVID-19 shutdown orders, I’m getting impatient for it all to end so we can go on about our daily lives.  But impatience is kind of a self-defeating emotion, when you think about it.  Inevitably, you feel impatient only about something that you have no control over — because if you did have control, you’d have taken care of it already.  As a result, impatience just leads to frustration. 

When it comes to the coronavirus and the isolation orders, we’re just going to have to be patient a little bit longer.

If you’re looking for a way to learn the value of patience, I’ve got one word for you:  ironing.  Since I’ve stopped going to the office, I don’t send my work shirts out for laundering and pressing.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t still value the feel of a crisp, freshly pressed shirt, however.  So, I iron my shirts myself.  And if I’ve learned one thing about ironing, it is that it can’t be rushed.  Ironing may, in fact, be the single most deliberate, patient task on the roster of common household chores.

Consider the sleeve on a man’s shirt.  It’s basically a tube of fabric, and unless you have a special device you can’t iron one part of the fabric at a time.  Instead, you’ve got to carefully lay the sleeve on the ironing board, pat down and smooth out the fabric to make sure there are no wrinkles on the fabric facing you or on the ironing board side of the sleeve, and then apply your iron.  If you rush the process or try to take a shortcut, you’re likely to iron a crease into the sleeve — which kind of defeats the idea of ironing in the first place. 

The same careful process has to be followed with the button down collar, and the cuffs, and the area between the buttons on the shirt front.  Each step must be approached with meticulous attention.  If you take your time and do things right, you’ll end up with a neatly ironed shirt that looks nice that will make you feel good about a job well done.  If you don’t approach the ironing process with patience and deliberation, you’ll end up with a shirt full of unwanted creases and wrinkles that cries out for a do-over. 

My grandmother used to say:  “Patience is a virtue.  Possess it if you can.  It’s seldom found in woman, and never found in man.”  Not surprisingly, Grandma knew the value of a good ironing job.      

“So, How Are Things In Ohio?”

We’ve had a number of phone calls with family and friends during this COVID-19 shutdown period, and one of the questions you typically get from people who live outside the Buckeye State is:  “So, how are things in Ohio?”  With all of the attention being paid to terrible hot spots like New York, states like Ohio can get lost in the shuffle.

virus-outbreak-ohio-30The answer to the question is:  Ohio is doing just fine.  In fact, you could argue that Ohio is doing better than just fine — it’s actually doing pretty well, thank you very much.

When you talk about pandemics, you’re always going to talk about numbers.  According to the information released yesterday, Ohio has 5,878 cases of the coronavirus, with 1,755 hospitalizations and 231 deaths.  That’s 231 deaths too many, of course, but the reality is that Ohio stacks up pretty well against other states on a per capita basis — especially for a state with a number of more densely populated urban areas.  According to the New York Times state-by-state chart, 5,878 cases puts Ohio at number 17 in terms of the total number of cases, but Ohio’s count stands at 50 cases per 100,000, and 2 deaths per 100,000.  That puts Ohio at number 34 among the states on the list of cases per 100,000 people, and number 27 on the list of deaths per 100,000 people.  By those metrics, Ohio is orders of magnitude better off than states like New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana.  New York, by comparison, has reported 869 cases per 100,000 people and 40 deaths per 100,000 people.

Ohio was one of the first states to impose a preventive shutdown order, in hopes of flattening (and, incidentally, extending) the infection curve, and by all accounts those efforts have worked like a charm.  Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, recently said that the social distancing practiced by Ohioans has “squashed” and “stretched” the curve.  That means that Ohio’s hospitals and health care facilities aren’t being overwhelmed by cases right now, and shouldn’t be overwhelmed in the future.  We’re now reaching the peak of the modified curve, and officials are forecasting that we’ll hit about 1,600 new cases per day, which is far below that nearly 10,000 cases per day that were initially forecast to be the peak of the curve.

The progress in Ohio has been such that Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, says that he is working on a plan to get the state back to normal, because “things are not as bad as they might have been.”  The current Ohio shutdown order ends on May 1, nearly three weeks from now.  Will it be allowed to expire, so people can go back to work, and if so, under what circumstances?

Those are questions that authorities in Ohio, and across the country, will be wrestling with, state by state.  Ohio’s officials have established a pretty good track record on making these kinds of tough decisions so far — but I think they also realize that the state  can’t stay in shutdown mode forever, and people need to get back to work.  Balancing public health, the state’s economy, and the mental and financial well-being of state residents will be a huge challenge.  If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that being governor is not an easy job.

Close Talkers (Video Conference Version)

I’d say that I have participated in more video conference calls over the past three weeks than in the rest of my extended work life, combined.  And, as I participate in the calls, I realize I’ve got a lot to figure out.  Other people do, too.

forehead man wrinkles before and afterRecently I was on a multi-party video call with one of those split screen set-ups.  One of the participants was positioned too close to his camera.  His oversized eyes and forehead, positioned in the upper left corner of my computer screen, loomed over the other talking heads like he was Gulliver among the Lilliputians.  It made me think that, if there was a Seinfeld about life during the coronavirus pandemic, one episode probably would be about close video conference talkers.  (And I expect that, in the COVID-19 Seinfeld world, Kramer would undoubtedly violate all social distancing requirements and still barge into Jerry’s apartment to eat his cereal.)

The gigantic forehead incident made me realize that I need to think carefully about my  video conference presence.  Am I too close to the little glowing dot at the top of my computer screen, or too far away?  Is your video conference head supposed to pretty much fill the screen, or is the proper dimension three-quarters of the screen, or one half?

And the position of the head is important, too — especially for the older guys like me.  If your head is tilted forward, you’re giving the unfortunate viewer a huge dose of your forehead, receding hairline, and thinning scalp.  If you lean back, on the other hand, you’re forcing the viewer to focus on the multiple chins and the vibrating neck wattles.  Either way, it’s not exactly a pretty picture.

There’s also the issue of what kind of attitude you’re projecting with your video position.  If you’re leaning in, you look earnest and engaged, but also perhaps hard of hearing.  If you lean back, your look “cooler,” but maybe uninterested.  And if you’re somebody who uses his hands to accentuate the point you are making, as I do, how can you be sure that the screen is capturing those carefully calibrated gestures?

It’s all pretty confusing for the novice video conferencer who doesn’t want to assume the Gulliver position in the upcoming conference calls.  It makes me think that the picture element adds a really significant dimension to the communication that requires you to give some careful thought to these issues before the calls start, and position yourself accordingly — and deliberately.

Retirement Training

There’s a secret issue lurking deep within the many layers of this coronavirus episode and the “work from home” restrictions imposed by governmental entities, like Ohio, in response to the pandemic.  It’s a delicate, explosive, almost taboo subject that isn’t really being addressed by the people who are directly affected.

retired-couple-riding-bikesThe secret issue is this:  in “boomer” households where one spouse works outside the home and the other doesn’t, the forced “shelter in place” requirements are seen as a kind of trial run for the retirement period that is coming down the road in the near future.  And neither spouse really knows, for sure, how it’s going to work when the one spouse stops trotting off to work on weekdays and ends up hanging around the house with the other spouse all day.  To be sure, they hope that the retirement years will be the golden period of bike-riding and pottery-making togetherness that the commercials depict, but they wonder if the reality is going to be more difficult . . . and darker.

To put it plainly:  is constant togetherness, without the “down time” created when one spouse is off at work, going to drive the stay-at-home spouse nuts?  And is the mere presence of the working spouse during the daytime period going to noticeably interfere with the habits and routines of the spouse who is used to having the run of the home, to do whatever s/he wants, without having the still-working spouse getting in the way or following him/her around like a lost puppy or a bored child who demands attention every waking hour of the freaking day?

Of course, this stay-at-home period isn’t a true trial run for retirement, because the working spouses are supposed to be working from home and, therefore, presumably have things to do that will occupy their time and command their attention.  Still, the need for adjustment is the same.  You might call this shutdown period a kind of partial dry run.  And, in a sense, that makes the situation even more delicate — because if the presence of the working spouse is getting on the stay-at-home spouse’s last nerve even under these circumstances, what’s it going to be like when true retirement comes and there is no work to serve as a distraction?

In households across America, spouses are walking on eggshells.  And if they aren’t, perhaps they should be.