Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 190 Working with our hands


Winston Churchill built a stone wall. Jimmy and Rosslyn Carter built houses. Brenda and I built a new entry way and porch on our house. Then we built a dinning room with the consultation of a real carpenter. We then built a tricky deck off the dinning room. We then moved inside with a couple of beds, an end table, hall table, stool for the hall way, and topped everything off with a round, walnut dinning table that can expand to seat eight. There is something about working with the hands. Retirement gives us a chance to do something different with our lives.


This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.


My wife and I taught school for over 20 years. I remember preparing and trying as hard as I could to do a good job. But at the end of the day the classroom was empty and I was never sure if anything stuck. Of course, I like to think the students were learning something that would help them navigate the world but I was never sure.


That’s the thing about working with your hands. When you finish the job you can run your hand along a smooth surface, take a picture of it, sit on it or put things in the drawers. And once again the next day you can appraise your work with renewed consideration. You can even show it to other people and bask in momentary praise. It’s real.


Retirement offers lots of possibilities and working with our hands seems to a favorite of a lot of us that use to do mind work. It isn’t for everyone but it certainly has its fans. My brother started getting tools and building furniture. He loves it. A friend in South Dakota started working with wood and is scheduled to a take a fine woodworking class this fall. He wants just a week or two of instruction from a pro.


I have another friend who sponsors this site who was trained as a geophysicist. He worked for an oil company in San Francisco for a short time. Threw it all away and moved from being a park ranger in Canyon du Che and Yellowstone to bike shop owner in Missoula, to fine woodworker in Bellingham. He tells me he is retired now though he works every day. He loves working with his hands. He also teaches woodworking on a very individualized basis in one or two week sessions. He is the one who guided Brenda and I in our furniture building venture. It pays to have good advice and good tools. He let us use his workshop.


Art seems to be a favorite field of activity for retired folks. I have a good friend that started take pottery classes at age 65. He took every class they offered in the art department at the local college. He is now 85 and still throwing pots on a weekly basis. Brenda took to water colors and paints on a regular schedule. It is a flexible schedule but yet she tries to pain a couple of hours a day when life is going along in a normal fashion. While she does that I play the classical guitar. I’ve been taking lessons off and on for over twenty years. I have a great teacher who has the patients of Job. Of course playing the guitar involves the mind as much as the hands. It is a good combination.


There is something exciting and yet soothing about making music. It offers and endless pathway to seeing daily improvement. Maybe no one else can hear it or tell it but I can. I think I am the slowest student that ever plucked a string but I like it and that is what retirement can afford us. The pursuit of music provides one of those paths of continuous movement. That’s where Spinoza though happiness lies. Just a little improvement each day that is open ended. He pursued that avenue in the study of philosophy. It worked for him. I taught that stuff for 18 years and it worked for me at the time. But then I wanted to try something different.  Now days I’d rather use my hands as well as my mind in trying to pick out a beautiful sound.


Constructing geodesic domes is the favorite activity of another of my friends. He loves the mathematics involved and the intricacies of designing the pieces and assembling them. He constantly amazes me with a new dome of one size or another. He builds them for his yard, he builds them for his grandchildren. He builds models and then turns them into bigger domes that sit on the floor, the yard or up in a tree.


There is something about working with the hands that brings so much pleasure. I know that Brenda seems the happiest when she is in the kitchen and food is moving from one state into yet that of a greater. She is lost in the moment creating something with all of her senses. The knife flies and the machines whirl. In the end an artistic dish is placed upon the table that first demands admiration then moves to satisfying that special sense of smell, texture and taste. Friends and family that gather round the table are always appreciative and comforted.


I always admired Winston Churchill’s effort to build a stone wall. I especially liked it because I understood that it did not wall anything in or anything out. It was just stone wall that started and stopped without rhyme or reason. Spinoza would have approved. Building the wall provided movement.


This is retirement talk.





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