Maybe it was our inability to find deli grade authentic Italian hot sausage in Upstate South Carolina. Maybe it was my constant whining about most chardonnay no longer being aged in oak barrels. Whatever the cause, lately everything seemed to be plain vanilla.

Instead of Italian sausage having real herbs and spices like fennel seed and hot pepper flakes, some ground up hot chili mixture was thrown in for color and heat by the butcher. “People don’t like all that fennel seed in their sausage”, he told me. A local vintner chimed in, telling me chardonnay was no longer aged in oak barrels because “the public” didn’t like the “oaky taste” of tannins. So stainless steel vats were now used to age the wine, not only leaving it devoid of the rich taste I enjoyed on a hot summer day but also the deep butterscotch yellow color, a tell tale sign of an oak barrel aging. And to be sure, as a real estate broker I used to tell people, plain vanilla sells. Most buyers wanted a shade of beige on the cabinets, walls, tiles and carpet. I even worked for one company where the president insisted his employees wear navy, gray, black and white. And vehicles? White seems to be the most popular color for SUVs, trucks and vans these days. We live, for the most part, in a plain vanilla world.

Retirement, though, offers up yet another opportunity. An opportunity to break from the collective thinking I, too, have engaged in. After decades of living in a plain vanilla world, I’ve been slowly rebelling. And, my life’s partner has joined me on this quest to bring back not only color but spirit to our lives. After all, we were married in a hay field. So, our renegade spirit has been there all along, just buried beneath the trappings of corporate America. With that cloak lifted, retirement affords a new freedom.

So, recently, when the mail box needed painting, Martin asked if I’d be O.K. with his painting it something different. Go for it, said I. Letting his spirit run wild, he proceeded to produce a sparkly silver and blue concoction with little copper faces and shimmering car striping for accent. Even the birds are wowed by this new look, no longer perching atop to desecrate our box with their poop. Now, sitting at the end of our driveway is a message to birds and the world at large…Plain vanilla doesn’t live here anymore.


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