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  • The Joys of an Empty Nest

    The joys of an empty nest:

    • Eating out for "Restaurant Week" three times in four days.

    • Walking home from each dinner (helps with the empty nester's digestion, among other things).

    • Two concerts in four days.

    • Hearing and photographing great musicians at the top of their craft without having to go home early or feeling guilty about staying out late.

    • After any/all of the above, having a nightcap and a chance to debrief, knowing the next morning you'll have a shot at the greatest wash/rinse/repeat experience ever.

    I love you, Jill.

  • The Passing of the Last 'Child'

    Our last "child" left the nest today. Like any parents, our eyes welled with tears while knowing this was different. With this departure, there will be no reunions, no holiday dinners, no weddings, no grandchildren.

    That's what occurs when the child is your family pet, in this case our 17-year-old cat, Victoria (aka Vicky, Miss Vic, or Mob Boss, a nickname coined by Kate.)

    Vicky and her sister — the appropriately named Tempest — were shelter kitttens who came into our lives shortly after we moved to Virginia. The kids were 9, 4, 3 and 3. Jill and I always had pets, and it made sense given how much running around we do for us to have cats rather than dogs.

    Tempest was the alpha, well, something. Headstrong and stubborn, it was no surprise when she left one day and never came back. Victoria, on the other hand, was docile and sweet; originally named Tootsie, we changed it, because she was never one to demand much attention.

    Every day around the same time, Vicky would come through, run figure 8s through our legs, purr loudly, allow us to pet her (holding her was at her option) and then be done until around the same time the next day. That was enough.

    She never ate wet food and enjoyed the occasional kitty treats, but her favorite food for some reason was sliced processed ham. (Passive-aggressive approach to the food chain, perhaps?)

    Vicky largely tolerated other pets — dogs and cats — who stayed with us for short periods. She mostly ignored them, but occasionally tensions would flare, and Vicky's response — usually quiet but always pointed — left you with the feeling that she was the family member in charge.

    When Cairo came into the picture is when Kate gave Victoria the official Mob Boss designation. Cairo, sweet, loud and needy, was more than happy to be Miss Vick's lackey as the consigliere perched on top of the living room chair and reaped the benefits.

    What I came to appreciate most about Vicky was her resilience and her presence. She was always there, never demanding to be the center of attention. She simply endured. When Cairo passed away in February, I called the kids to let them know and each was shocked it wasn't Victoria. I wasn't; until the past month or so, I would have bet she'd outlive us all.

    After our move to Alexandria from Lorton earlier this year, Victoria adapted to our new home, finding her spots, always purring. But age — she was over 100 in human terms — was taking its toll.

    Self-grooming was an after-thought; the litter box was as well. She developed an abscess that the vet said was likely cancerous, and it became obvious the end was near.

    Last night, Jill and I made the decision. We let the kids know, and Emma and Ben called via FaceTime to say goodbye; Kate came to the vet's office to do so in person. We talked to Nicholas as well.

    Victoria's passing is as huge a shift for them as it is for us. Like any family pet who survives to see kids leave home, she represented a link to the day-to-day of childhood.

    For us, it's a reminder that our nest is truly empty. Any steps we make going forward are part of the next generation, one that I'm looking forward to while mourning the past in the present.

  • Notes From the 'Empty Nesters' File

    This past week, I realized something I knew deep down but had never articulated: I like exercise as long as it’s organic.

    Faced with a walk-first mentality, I’m happy to stroll around or bike until my feet want to fall off, using trains or cars only as necessary. Put in a drive-first situation, my embedded laziness takes over. The only exercise I seem to get then is typing on my laptop or phone or clicking the camera shutter. After 17 years in the suburbs, all I'm left with are really strong hands.

    Over the past two-plus months, Jill and I moved ourselves from Lorton to Alexandria, with help on a couple of occasions from friends and family. Although I’ve never been in the military, I’m pretty sure it was a 53-year-old’s version of boot camp: several weeks of hell followed by a big reward.

    On Sunday, we drove to Springfield Mall to shop in an actual store and see a movie for Mother’s Day. It was the first time I’ve been in a car in five days — one of the longest “no automobile” stretches of my life since my teens —and I haven’t missed it at all. Not one bit.

    That might seem strange given that I grew up in Texas, where public transportation is defined in the state Constitution as “build another loop,” and have driven back and forth to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York numerous times over the years to see our kids. (By my estimate, I’ve easily driven more than 1 million miles since getting my driver’s license in — gulp! — 1981.)

    Since the move to Old Town, I’ve walked at least 3 to 4 miles daily and have gone on three bike rides in the past 10 days. The exercise has been good for the mind and soul, not to mention the waistline.

    For that, I’m grateful.

    Additional observations from the “recently moved empty nesters” file:

    • My most recent bike ride was 21 miles, the longest I’ve ridden in at least five years. I enjoyed all but the last three miles of it, which is when my body’s hashtag became #hipsdontlie. Two days later, I’m ready to go out again.

    • Commuter transportation is not perfect. I thought Metro was underselling itself with its marketing theme, “Back to Good,” then realized while traveling into D.C. this week that the tagline might be a tad ambitious. Still, there’s a lot to be said for walking to the Metro and not having to deal with the car/train/car commute. (Or worse, just the car commute.)

    • Surviving the sale of one house and the purchase of another within a two-month period is a great litmus test for your marriage/friendship/partnership. What I appreciate most about Jill is that our differences mostly compliment each other. It's OK to divide as long as you can conquer in the long run, and we've managed to do that. 

    • Moving inputs and outputs: Six days a week, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon have a love-hate relationship with our front porch. On the seventh day, the City of Alexandria’s sanitation/recycling departments dread coming to our backyard to scoop up the remains.

    • Styrofoam pieces and peanuts are like glitter: No matter how much you sweep, you can never completely rid yourself of either one.

    • We are the sole reason cardboard sales were at an all-time high in the second quarter of 2018.

    • “Some assembly required” remain the three dirtiest words in the English language.