January 22, 2020

Why "Raining Iguanas"

Why "Raining Iguanas" 
By John R. Greenwood

A recent 2020 cold snap in South Florida has resulted in several news articles
regarding the lizard phenomenon called raining iguanas. It also initiated a slew of messages from friends of this blog of the same name. Since there may be new visitors here I thought it would be good to write a fresh explanation and also repost a link to the first piece I wrote about how the name “Raining Iguanas” became the title of my blog. Having never visited Florida in my life and with little affection for lizards, in general, it makes sharing this story even more interesting. The vision of iguanas raining down comes from their inability to survive in frigid temperatures. Because they reside in trees where they can absorb the warmth of the sun when that sun disappears and the mercury drops to the low 30’s they lose their grip and drop to the ground. If the sun and warmer temperatures don’t come quickly enough, the iguanas die. Conversely, if the sun and temperature rise, so do the iguanas. 

I adopted that phenomenon as a metaphor for my life several years ago after my parents had both passed away, and several years of caregiving were now in my rearview mirror. The realization that my life had just made a drastic turn weighed heavily on my ability to function. Job and family obligations would change by default. Grieving and breathing were now intertwined in a confusing cocktail. It was twelve years ago that I sat at my dining room table and read a random article about ashen colored lizards being warmed back to life by the simple rays of the sun when something clicked. It was a crossroad moment where you must make a life-changing decision to take one path or another. Do I choose to mope and feel sorry for myself? Or, do I celebrate the life that my parents provided me and leap forward. I chose the latter. My parents weren’t perfect but they always wanted what was best for me. I was fortunate to have grown up in a rural environment where hard work and solid friendships provided a foundation for what would be a fulfilling and rewarding life. On that day where I connected with the idea of a second wind and a renewed outlook on my life, the name “Raining Iguanas” was born. The name stands for revival and survival. It stands for stepping out and stepping up. It stands for glasses half full and embracing the best life has to offer. It understands there are days when the temperature hovers near freezing and things appear bleak, but it is the “raining iguana’ mantra that there is always something better just around the corner that fuels this author. When you hear “raining iguanas,” think of a new foal circling the field kicking its back legs high and galloping for all he’s worth. Picture a grey-haired retiree neck-deep in local history uncovering old stories that yearn for the light of day. There are days when the chore of mowing the lawn needs a boost of “RI” (Raining Iguana). These are the days when the focus becomes the smell of fresh-cut grass and the memory it evokes. That memory might be the time you caught hell from dad because the lawn wasn't done when he got home, or the day you mowed over a nest of ground bees and had to run for dear life, it’s a gift worth saving and replaying in the years that follow. 

From the day the Raining Iguanas Blog was conceived I have embraced all that is supportive of the positive and accepting of the negative. The knowledge that there is no perfect answer has become clear during the iguana years. Friends and family of differing opinions and varying solutions seem destined to collide. My choice is to weigh with action, not words. “RI” is not about confrontation its about contemplation. You choose your path—I’ll choose mine—no judgment necessary. 

If any of this makes sense, then you will enjoy the ride. If it doesn’t today, it might tomorrow when your hair and tolerance of intolerant people thins. Sometimes you are better off letting the sun warm you back to life in any way you can. That ashen grey look is unbecoming and deadly. 

Here are two links to posts I wrote explaining the name of my blog "Raining Iguanas." 
Click Here: What's in a name"
Click Here: The Name?

Here is another link. This one is to the very first post of this blog. It's a poem I wrote before I had the courage to start this blog and begin sharing my stories with the outside world. 
Click Here: Post Number One: Raining Iguanas Poem

Here’s to the best of days—past, present, and future. 

Raining Iguanas

January 02, 2020

Six Month Checkup

Six Month Checkup 
By John R. Greenwood

 Owl Pen Books
 June 2019

It went by like a freight train. Unbelievably, it’s been six months since Elvis left the building. My prox card remains untouched in the small basket where I toss my car keys. No more working weekends and holidays. If my phone rings now its the trash company letting me know they’re running a day late. My impact on the world has shrunk considerably and so has the weight that perched upon my shoulders for so many years. It’s a feeling of relief that peaks every morning as I sip my coffee. The ability to maintain an early morning workout schedule adds as much mental benefit as it does physical. A full night's sleep is now a normal event, not a rare occurrence. No more 2:00am phone calls from sick or injured drivers to wrestle with. I’m not complaining, I had a rewarding career filled with honest, hardworking people who relished the journey just like me. I’m simply sharing my thoughts from the inside out. 

It has not been a feet-on-the-coffee-table retirement though. I have accomplished more around my house in the last six months than I did in the last six years. From large projects like painting the house to small nagging ones like replacing a shut-off valve on an outdoor faucet, I’ve been busier and happier than ever. Although my dreams of spending hours pecking away at the keyboard have dwindled, my contributions to the Simply Saratoga Magazine have continued on a regular basis. I remain forever grateful for their generosity in publishing my work. 

The contacts and connections that I’ve made over the last six months is a long list. I’ve joined multiple organizations and made many new friends. Research into the company that made my retirement possible has been a large part of the last six months. I discovered photos of myself from the 1960s I never knew existed; documentation of the life-long relationship with the company that I worked for. The question of travel is always the first sentence you hear when mentioning your recent retirement. I respond the same every time. “Not yet,” is my go-to reply. I’m quite content exploring the nooks and crannies within earshot of my home. The area where I live is blanketed with parks, museums, bookstores, wildlife preserves, rivers, and lakes. I can spend a day or an hour enjoying nature in every form and never move the needle on my gas gauge or pull a dollar from my wallet. This is the reason I worked long hours and holidays. It’s cashing in without breaking a sweat and it feels great. 

The downside of my retirement has been the news and the politics that have infiltrated it. It’s hard to escape. It has affected the way I look at the world. My positivity is tested daily. Watching the divide within my country has burdened me, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Having spent my life as a fairly non-partisan person, I find myself in constant turmoil. To see the anger and disdain for people who look and sound different from what we see in the mirror leaves me shaking my head in disbelief. This is not the world I imagined for my grandchildren. I yearn for the days when acceptance for people with opposing views returns, and children and education take priority over individual gain. 

I’m going to do my best to shake 2020 like a dog toy and give it all I have. I have writing and remodeling projects lined up like pickets on a fence. I have a couple belt sizes to re-lose again this spring—my exercise routine not robust enough to overcome my latest snack routine. I will end this first post of the New Year with photographs documenting the last six months. With any luck and fewer promises, I can knock off a few more blog posts than I did in 2019. 

Happy New Year! 

September 09, 2019

Peaking After 60

Peaking After 60
By John R. Greenwood

One of my favorite quotes is, "Life Begins Outside Your Comfort Zone." Living outside your comfort zone can be invigorating, but it can also cause you bodily harm when it comes to painting the peak of your house from the far reaches of an extension ladder. Surprisingly, I'm not as brave as I used to be. Well, to be honest, I was never all that brave—especially when it came to working high above the earth. Yes, I've worked from scaffolding and extension ladders before, but I'm not as nimble as I used to be. Let's just say I could never be mistaken for, "Jack, be nimble, Jack, be quick." One thing I have been known for is; being careful. My job as a driver supervisor for thirty years was teaching and preaching safe driving and working practices. That penchant for safety exposed itself during my house painting project when I moved from the back of my one-story ranch to the peak on the gable end of the house. The peak of a one-story house is two stories above the ground and a substantial fall for a man with 60-year-old parts. I was using a borrowed 20' extension ladder which at full extension delivered me and my paintbrush to their lofty destination. My dilemma was the weight rating of this particular ladder. It was a hair shy of the reading on our bathroom scale. It's a challenge to paint while holding a paintbrush in one hand, white-knuckling the rungs of an aluminum ladder with the other, and praying to the DIY Gods all at the same time. My heart said, man-up, my head said shut up and listen. Listen to the voice on your shoulder, yelling at you to commandeer a sturdier ladder. I'd spent years telling hundreds of drivers in my Safe Driving Courses to listen to that little voice on their shoulder. When that little shoulder-voice whispers to you to get out of the truck and take a second look before you back up—you listen to it! In the case of the sketchy extension ladder, that little voice was screaming at me to do something different. A two-minute call to Trax Equipment Rental on Circular St. Saratoga and $25 provided peace of mind and a taller, beefier ladder. My confidence and safety were in much better hands.

I have decades of DIY stumbles and scars to prove my skills as a homeowner are less than professional. Still, my desire to DIY is always full throttle. Balancing ability, want, and safety has plagued man for centuries. Not unlike our willingness to ask for directions is our unwillingness to ask for help or look for time-consuming alternatives when faced with a seemingly simple task. The words, "I can build it cheaper," sends chills up Mrs. G's spine. She's spent 45 years paying for my adventures at "cheaper." It's a story we're all familiar with. In my defense, when I had the time and energy, I didn't always have the funds. Now that I'm a tad more fluid, my energy level usually finds itself at half charge. 

In the end, my peak-painting adventure was successful and even rewarding. Now I'm ready to move around to the front of the house where step ladders rule and fear is limited to a stray wasp attack. 

House-painting may seem boring to you, but for this creaky grandfather, its become my Mt. Marcy. Maybe, I'll tackle that next summer? It would be a piece of cake after this. 

August 22, 2019

En Plein Air

En Plein Air 
By John R. Greenwood 

"En Plein Air" 

Now that I'm retired I thought I would join the ranks of my artist friends by taking a brushstroke at Plein Air painting— with a twist. Instead of a palette and a French easel, my version includes a step ladder and a 3" paintbrush. Instead of buying my paint in little tubes at AC Moore, I do gallons of Benjamin Moore. I won't make a nickel selling my landscapes, but I might save a buck or two with hard work and rolled up sleeves. In between August's scattered showers and lightning strikes, I decided to paint my 1950ish house. It's a one-story ranch which reduces the impact of my extension ladder phobia. The siding is aluminum and paint-peel-free. The bad news is, after decades of UV-ray exposure, my once bright white house has faded to a soft grey. The good news is, my paint scraper and wire brush can be replaced with soap and water—and a much a lower supply of elbow grease. 

I got a quote from an experienced house painter last summer. The price was fair, and I had total confidence he would have done a professional job. The decision to paint my own house was testosterone-based. What little of it remained in my creaky-boned body, teased me into wanting to man-up and do it myself. There's something about the act of painting your own house that appeals to me. The "Tim The Tool Man" syndrome was still floating around in my grey matter, and all it took was someone to suggest that I might want to hand the job over to a younger age group that tipped the scale. 

There was one more reason for my decision. The thought of painting my own house reminded me of the time my father painted our family home back in 1968. That house was a more significant challenge than mine. It was a vintage two-story farmhouse covered in dry wood shingles. Maybe twelve out of twelve-hundred of those shingles didn't require the attention of a scraper and wire brush. The house was so old and weathered you would have sworn we lived on Cape Cod. 1968 was my first summer as a teenager, so I wasn't much help. Back then, I had a tendency to vanish like Houdini, appearing only at dinner—and even that was sporadic. It took my father an entire summer to paint that house. When he was done that barn-red house shone like a bright, fresh monument to self-reliance. He was so proud of the job he'd done he talked about it for years—with a little added to the story. Less than a week after my father finished painting the house, I had a group of my friends over for a game of ball tag. Ball tag was a pre-video game era pastime that satisfied all aspects of growing up happy and healthy. As if ball tag wasn't exciting enough, I, in my infinite wisdom decided to crank up the volume by grabbing a half-filled pail of water that sat next to the house and throw it on my friends as they came running around the corner of the freshly painted home. My plan worked to perfection. The water doused its targets with precision, and the result was a lawn covered with teen-fresh boys rolling around, gripping their sides in laughter. Those laughs were muted for this author the next day when my father got home from work. It was then he informed me that the pail of water I used to spray my friends and the side of the house, was the same pail he used to change the oil in his International Scout. It was not pure water, it was an oily mix of water and Quaker State 10W40. If I have to explain what that concoction did to dad's fresh paint, you probably won't understand how close to death I came that day. 40 years later, dad was still sharing that story with anyone who even mentioned the subject of house painting. 

In my late teens, I was a razor's edge more responsible when I helped my grandfather paint a rental house he owned and was planning to sell. My grandfather also took great pride in house painting. He treated his tools with care. I think that gene may have jumped out of my pool. Thank goodness it showed back up in both my sons. My grandfather taught me a lot about painting and home maintenance in general. To this day I scoot down Ludlow St. when I can just to bring that summer paint job back in to focus.

My hopes of becoming a fine-artist fade quickly every time I touch a piece of indoor trim with a shaky paintbrush. In fact, one summer, when I was sixteen, my father's boss asked if I wanted to paint the building where he worked. It was a big job with two-story scaffolding and planking. That was the summer my father tagged me with the nickname "Shmear."  As I "Shmeared" away on the back of my own house today, I couldn't help but channel my father and grandfather in hopes they might keep an eye on how I was doing. Hopefully, they'll be proud of the finished job? 

If nothing else, it paints a nice picture. 

RIP Bob Ross

July 31, 2019

60 Days In

60 Days In
By John R. Greenwood

"Look Closely"

Wow, that went fast! 

It’s been 60 days since I used my prox-card, 60 days of waking up without a job, 60 days of re-working my non-work brain. 

What can you accomplish in 60 (free) days? 

  • Mow the lawn on Tuesday morning before noon.
  • Paint that rusty old plant stand you promised your wife you’d paint during the last Bush Administration.
  • Go to the actual library to get a new library card— when you can find an actual parking spot. 
  • Ride the new bicycle you retirement-gifted yourself—whenever you feel like it. 
  • Spend the day exploring the Town of Greenfield with Town Historian, Ron Feulner—and learning things you never knew.
  • Go to the market with your wife—on a Thursday morning
  • Take your 6-year-old grandson to swimming lessons—in the middle of the day
  • Stay up past 9pm— or even later! 
  • Volunteer to man a non-profit's booth at the Saratoga County Fair for three hours—on a Friday afternoon. 
  • Work on an indoor remodeling project(s) you’ve put off since the first Bush Administration.
  • Go to breakfast with your wife—on a Wednesday 
  • Go to lunch with your wife—on a Monday
  • Eat dinner at dinner time—or not

The list was simple and relatively short. The first 60 days were more of a settling in process; re-organizing our habits and routines; prioritizing our priorities; redefining our lives and goals. Realizing just how much of your work had soaked into your body. Not on purpose, but slowly by osmosis. Its like shedding a heavy wool coat while standing in front of a roaring fire—comfort is more comfortable without the extra weight. I’d dreamt about having hours and hours of free time to sit and contemplate my words on to sheets of paper. First I have to uncluttered my desk. The years of, “I’ll get to it later,” had overflowed its banks. Restoration would take time. At least I had more choices now. 

As I write this I’m sitting at a metal picnic table in front of the business I dedicated the majority of my working life to. In the last 60 days, the customers haven’t changed, the employees haven’t changed. But, I’ve changed. Now I have more time to reflect and digest my life. I can sit next to a busy convenience store parking lot and dissect my life, appreciate it in chunks, savor it in nibbles. It went from a spring run-off North Hudson torrent to a meandering summer Battenkill in just a few short weeks. I feel calmer, happier. It’s not about having little to do, its about having lots to do—but from a higher vantage point. 

Today’s goal is to get this posted on my blog. I foolishly thought that I might be able to post once or even twice a day after I kicked work to the curb— how naive. I keep forcing myself to enjoy the moment—the feeling of untethered freedom. My wife and I have worked hard for this moment. Adding pressure to it isn’t necessary or healthy. Take that walk now, the lawn will wait another day for a haircut. 
In a few hours, I will be headed to the Greenfield Town Historian’s Office to work on my last Stewart’s project. It will encapsulate much of my life from beginning to the present. I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the project and not let the importance of it overtake the process. It’s a constant conversation I must have. 

Time’s a-wastin' — just a phrase…