Before & After


This post should have been posted weeks ago. My initial plan was to list it as a Wordless Wednesday piece featuring before and after photos of my Florida garden, courtesy of Google maps.

But as I often do for a Wordless Wednesday post, I like to add a few words — only this time, the words were making a wordless post a bit wordier. So Wednesdays came and went, and as I stared at the two photos — the before and after of a landscape — I thought of my own before and after.

A lot has changed for me in the past few years.

Here is a summary of my before:

For more than 25 years, I worked as a school social worker in a Long Island high school, where I also acted as coordinator for a program designed for at-risk youth. Several years ago, as I sat in my office, I didn’t quite feel right. These were symptoms that had become familiar to me: shortness of breath, ache in my left arm.

A visit to my cardiologist and a stress test revealed another blockage to my heart, one that was aggravated by cold and stress. Rather than add another stent to my collection of 13, my doctor decided to treat it with medication and a recommendation that I take some time off.

That’s when Joe and I thought it best that I take an extended medical leave, spend more time in Florida, and de-stress. When the leave came to an end, I opted for an early retirement.

Going through that decision-making process was a stress test in itself. For more than two decades, I knew my role. I knew what was expected of me. I knew my place. I knew how to do my job.

Garden Bed

Recently, my colleagues invited me back to recognize me at the school’s retirement party. To say I was touched and moved is simply not enough.

As I circulated the room, greeting and hugging so many people and thanking them for their kind words, it occurred to me: at this stage in my life, I will never have a work experience like this, in which people simply get me. The relationships and friendships I had made had lasted longer than many marriages.

I think this one of the reasons I’ve been thinking of my before and contemplating my after.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person who does as he’s told, who colors within the lines — except for a few years in the ‘80s when spandex, hair gel, and shredded clothing were about as far from the path as I ventured.

Through it all, though, I’ve thought of Margaret Roach, a talented writer, gardener, and the woman behind the popular “A Way To Garden” blog. In her book, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, Ms. Roach documents her decision to leave her corporate position at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for a more tranquil and fulfilling existence at her home and garden in upstate New York.

As she wrote: “Who am I if I am not mroach@marthastewart dot com any longer?”

I understand that, especially now. It feels a bit like being stripped down, naked, and vulnerable. The titles we either give ourselves or have been given to us are a warm security blanket, a costume that we put on to face the world.

As exciting as it is to stand in a place full of possibilities, where I can redesign myself — it’s also a bit terrifying. Very terrifying.   I’m not a fan of rollercoasters or scary movies, either. I like to know where I’m going and what’s in front of me. I’m more Mary than Rhoda.

Garden Bed

Since arriving in Florida, I’ve worked at creating a landscape in a blank yard — and I’ve had lots of time to wonder about the blank slate that is now me. While I no longer wish to be a social worker, I would like to use those skills in a new way. Because of this blog, I would also like to do something more creative.

I keep telling myself to enjoy the journey — and I’m really trying. One of the greatest surprises was taking a part-time job in the garden center of a large box store. It may not be the nursery of my dreams, but I am absolutely loving it and learning so much (more posts on this topic will follow).

For six hours, Monday through Friday, I get to water plants, talk to customers about their garden ideas and questions, and smell mulch. Most people — including my coworkers — think I’m insane for enjoying work in a garden center in the South Florida summer, but maybe this is all part of the journey that I’m supposed to be enjoying on the path to my after.

By now, you probably have a better sense about why this post was too wordy for a wordless midweek day.  Such is the state of my mind these days.

Nevertheless, the whole purpose of this post was to share the after photo of my garden. If you look closely on the left side of the picture, the Google camera has captured a hatted gardener, who is — like the garden — a work in progress.


41 thoughts on “Before & After

    • Thanks Gwennie. Even as I look at the after photo, I realize it’s a bit dated already. I will try to do a proper garden tour in the future. 🙂

      • The iguanas . . . Well, let’s just say that everyone — and I do mean everyone — is complaining about them. They are relentless. They continue to eat my plants, the neighbor’s plants, all the plants. They’re bold — venturing into the front yard, crossing streets, and entering areas that aren’t near any water. At work, so many people come in looking for anything to deter, scare, block these pests from invading — and no matter what people try, the sound the hear is the laughter of the iguanas. For me, I’m hoping for a cold snap in January.

      • are you sure they are iguana’s and not monkeys ??? I always thought iguana’s were lazy beasts lying in the sun all day and catching the flies who came close enough….. the way you describe them is how monkeys behave 😀

      • Hi Gwennie. No, it’s not monkeys. Iguanas are actually omnivores, but the largest part of their diet is plants — my plants. Grrrrr.

      • I am so sorry about your plants, we don’t have that problem here, I think rabbits are the biggest problem over here but we don’t have them in our garden.

  1. What a great opportunity. Both the move and the before and after Google photos. I’m captivated by the after photo – not only your progress but also the movement of the trees and clouds – it’s an action photo!

  2. Such a great story, it makes me think about many of my own decisions. It also sounds like you’re very happy with how things are going and are trying a bunch of new things which might never had happened otherwise. I think that’s great

  3. As mom and I enter into the autumn of our years many of our thoughts are of the “before” when all we wanted was the best for you and Karen. Like winters past when the sap slows down, mom and I have reached that season and the “after” appears to be but a blink of an eye. Time goes faster as you get older but our “after” still remains the same, we still want what is best for our children. You have reached that pinnacle in your life. Stay healthy, enjoy every moment of your retirement and continue your journey.

    • Hi Dad. Thank you for your beautiful words. It’s funny that you mention time going faster. I think I say that each and every day! I often remember the long stretch of summer when I was a kid — and now it seems to fly by. The only difference is that in south Florida, it always feels like summer, which is kind of a cruel trick. My thermometer says July 4, but the calendar says Christmas. Talk soon!

  4. I admire your resilience in this season in your life, Kevin, and it says a lot about Joe, as well, that the two of you have taken very big steps to prioritize health and well-being over the comfort of staying in a career that was so fulfilling to you. I understand the points you make about identity. Although I’m retiring this month closer to a traditional age than you, and entirely by choice, I’m actually grappling with some of the same “identity” issues and I’m completely surprised by my response! I’m also more Mary than Rhoda, despite my desire to be much more Rhoda. LOL! I totally get you, Kevin. Leaving behind coworkers and good friends is so hard. But your blogging friends are here for you! Be sure to share more from your garden center job! That’s a creative way to learn about all those wonderful plants you never saw in New York. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I’m so thrilled that you are beginning a new life chapter — just think of the adventures and posts you’ll have. 🙂 I think the biggest issue for me was surrendering control. For so many years, I lived and worked by a school schedule. Once that was gone, time opened up — and then came the challenge of what to do with that time and to be flooded with so many ideas. Ultimately, I decided to just let it be, to walk the path and see where it leads. Wishing you the best of everything!

  5. Having my own heart disease that sent me to early retirement I fully understand your decision to move to FL. I cannot believe all the stents! I wish you full health and happiness. It is nice you at least get some hours at the garden center and also that your coworkers invited you back for recognition.

  6. You’ve identified so well the life challenges faced by the recently retired. And thanks for the gardening inspiration. I live in Central Florida and have a yard I also dream of turning into a delightful Eden.

    • Hi Lynn. Best of luck with your Eden-making project. Central Florida, I’m sure, presents its own set of hurdles, but I think you probably have different plant options than I have in south Florida. Be well.

  7. I am dealing with the same issues after losing my job in February. I like things to be familiar and it’s hard for me to venture into something new. I told my husband, my ideal job would be watering plants at my local nursery so I completely understand what you are going through. I wish you the best at your new job, Sounds very non-stressful.
    p.s. your yard looks great!

    • Hi Brenda. Sorry to hear of your job loss. I’ve read and heard of many people who take this turn in life and try to create something positive, to venture out into something new and invigorating. I’m still trying to figure out what that is — but watering plants is helping. The most difficult part is realizing that for X number of years, you had a professional reputation that coworkers/bosses all new and appreciated — and then, surprise, the rest of the world knows nothing about you! In fact, the rest of the world hasn’t been eagerly awaiting your arrival — and so you have to go about letting others know who you are and what you can do, and if you’ve “aged out,” it adds another hurdle into the mix. Companies, businesses, etc. shouldn’t be so quick to ignore or marginalize us baby boomers. We still have a lot to offer!

  8. I love your posts, and I agree with a previous poster…about using your words…life is such an interesting journey and we are programmed or taught or whatever you want to call the process, to be “something”, become “someone”…and when that has to stop, for some reason or another, it can really be difficult to figure our where you belong in the atmosphere…Kevin, you seem to have found the space you belong in, the garden, the garden center, I hope that your life keeps evolving and you keep learning and keep gardening…and yeah, keep posting in your blog. Your picture are beautiful, your garden is beautiful and it gives others a glimpse into a place in the world that they will likely never see, and that is a wonderful thing to share, so thank you.

    • Hi Abby. Thanks for your words and for joining the conversation. Starting this blog was a means of preserving my sanity and getting back to my creative side — and now that I’m in this new life chapter, I’m open to ideas and suggestions. I really have no idea where the road will take me, but I plan on enjoying the ride. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying being a plant waterer. 🙂 Be well!

  9. Kevin, I’ve come to think about retirement as a time of life when you turn to a new page in the book of your life and discover that it is blank and you can write whatever you want on it. I’ve also come to think that retirement, like a garden, is always a work in progress.

    • Hi Jean. It’s the blank page that can be intimidating. 🙂 Especially when there are so many blank pages still to come. Perhaps the biggest lesson is to just write and rewrite and rewrite again. Here’s to those who are, like gardens, a work in progress. Cheers!

  10. I love before-and-after stories, whether it be of gardens or people…. and both of yours are clearly on an upward as well as wider trajectory. 🙂 And I too have always been a Mary, but have found that as I get older I’ve found more chances and less reluctance to give my Inner Rhoda more free rein!

    • Hello M’Lady. I couldn’t help but smile when you mentioned your inner-Rhoda. The older I’ve gotten, there have been moments when my inner-Rhoda has slipped out. That might be one of the benefits of being an aging Mary. 🙂

  11. Dear Kevin….I just love how you write…. and love the person you continue to be. No matter how much time or distance may be between New York and Florida….I feel your spirit, your vulnerability, your humanity, your honesty. I’m so happy you were able to enjoy a visit back to Long Island, and be honored by your colleagues. It’s an important and meaningful piece to the journey of retirement. I couldn’t be happier for you. I send you and Joe, much love!
    And…..your place looks amazing!!!
    Love…Jeannie in Brookhaven

    • JEANNIE! So nice to hear from you. We both think of you often — and smile at all of the wonderful adventures. Thank you for your kind words, and if you’re ever in the area . . . you’ve got a couple of friends who would love to see you.

  12. The place looks so much more homey and inviting in the ‘after’ picture! Growing up, every time we would move my mom would say ‘think of it as an adventure!’ It took many years and several more moves before I realized that maybe I didn’t like adventure. I know how painful starting over can be, but it is true that it does lead to some great new experiences that one wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope you find your place there, and that it leads to some great new things!

    • Hi Indie. I don’t like adventure either; nor do I like change — but perhaps this move is a challenge for me to understand those things. Also, I like to think that I’m not dead yet, so let’s keep on living. 🙂

  13. Oh my, my, my ! I am so glad it wasn’t wordless. I needed an update about you post New York. What can I say? I would read a book if you wrote it, you are so relatable and honest. It’s my fave thing to imagine sitting on the lanai drinking coffee and hearing your stories in person. I am Mary mostly. But when she spins and throws the hat, we all know there is a funeral giggle box in there too. AND! The best part of being Mary is to listen to and participate in Rhoda’s shenanigans! Much love NGD.
    PS… Holy paver driveway, Batman! And way cool truck too!

    • Hi HH. Thank you so much for your words. I would LOVE to hang out in the lanai with you — but since I don’t have one, we’ll have to settle for the patio, preferably in winter when the mosquitoes aren’t around. Glad you like the truck. That old truck belongs to Joe — but that’s a tale for the lanai. 🙂

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