Getting back to work

128      Only a year had passed since my early retirement with the Forest Service, although for Sheila, she had been in Arkansas nearly two years. Our lives had changed drastically as we had left the rat race of Atlanta's freeways behind and enjoyed living in a more rural location. My supervisor had claimed I was too young to retire but my lifelong characteristic of looking younger than I really am had deceived him. What we really needed at that point in time was to step back and take a deep breath. Officially retired, I knew that my retirement savings would run out within a year but we had kept that money coming in because we wanted the income to buy the house we had come to call Little Red’s. But for the moment, that income gave us a much needed chance to breathe.

129      Sheila felt much more stressed out than I did. She is the one who had had to deal with balancing the needs of her demented stepmother with our own needs and with interactions with other family members. I don't use the word "demented" in a bad way. Dementia is a medical diagnosis indicating one has lost control of one's emotions through the effects of age. I may be demented myself although I prefer to think of myself as a little nuts and a little crazy. But with Christine in the nursing home we took several weeks just to come to our own senses. Watching a person lose control of their emotions is not an easy thing to do and we had seen similar things happen to my own mother earlier in the decade, although she remained a much more pleasant person.

130      Soon enough, Sheila was back to work at a doctor's office with other crazy people. I say that in jest because all those people were probably legally sane. What would happen in the next few years would be quite strange. One business owner, a physician that Sheila did not work for, would see his license suspended and his business shut down. The doctor she did work for would try to go it on his own with a much smaller group of employees but over the next two years that business would fail as well. Nevertheless, Sheila went back to work.

Becoming a writer

131      I found myself with an income and some time on my hands. I've always been an independent person, one of the characteristics necessary to be self-employed. I had the summer ahead of me and decided to use my time to write my first book of fiction. So, in the spring of 2009 I began to write a few thousand words every day. I found the freedom exhilarating although I could've worked harder at times. Some of my ideas for my retirement years were already fading away. In 2009, I collected one plant specimen. That may not sound significant, but since the start in 1987 I had collected more than 12,400 specimens and if you count duplicates of the same collection number I had processed more than 30,000 herbarium specimens, or perhaps an average of 1,200 to 1,500 year. To collect one specimen in a single year was a big change. Since then, that is probably been my average from 2009 to 2013, one specimen a year.

132      I found writing a book challenging. I had a few goals in mind. I had never written a book length fiction before. A wanted to tell the story of an ordinary firefighter going west with the United States Forest Service without all the drama ordinarily seen in firefighting stories. Instead of concentrating on a firefighting disaster I want to look into crew dynamics and interaction and give the reader the feeling of fighting a wildfire in the United States in the late 90s and early 2000s. As I reached the end of the story I began to realize I had a problem. By eliminating the disaster drama of many such firefighting stories I had neglected to have a plot. I needed to learn to write fiction and I was learning. I had 63,000 words written that went nowhere.

133      But the experience was exactly what I needed. I needed to be free from the workaday world and concentrate on what I love doing, writing and being a botanist and ecologist. Some of my early plans fell by the wayside. I had wanted to sell biologically-oriented T-shirts and created a Carex T-shirt but sold only a few of them. Since we had "too much stuff" I did manage to sell some things in various consignment shops where I had booths but I soon discovered I had no good way to make a significant salary using either of those methods. Going to work for a company was not promising because of the low wages in this area. I had earned more than $35 an hour with the Forest Service and it didn't seem to make sense to go to work for $8 or $10 an hour.

Changing methods of learning Chinese

134      Another change of the summer of 2009 was a change in my approach to learning the Chinese language. Listening to Pimsleur Chinese language tapes while commuting in Atlanta and studying my Chinese flashcards had given me a foundation for mastering the language but I still have a long way to go. One of my Chinese friends, Gao Li, asked me to help them find an American girlfriend. I failed at that attempt but it took my life a new direction. Late in the summer I would begin to make connections with people in China. The impending change in my method of employment would take a few years to develop but the seed was planted. The coming changes would blindside me completely. When I had started learning Chinese I had no idea how much it would change my life. To give you a hint of what will come in future chapters simply learning a language over a nine year period would take me from having no Chinese friends ever in my life to communicating with thousands of Chinese people every year, developing a business based on China and editing, and the strong possibility of gaining Chinese relatives and grandchildren.

135      But this chapter talks about 2009. Those changes were just in their infancy. Several things began which set in motion a series of events which would take our lives in totally new directions. First, I started blogging mostly in English on a website I found,, and began to help other people learn English. I was able to use a little Chinese, but very little. The owner of that website, Julian Lou, and I were both surprised how popular my blogs would become. Within six months, my profile had more than 50,000 hits, a number which would double over the second six months. The young man in Shanghai, Peter Pei, contacted me which would be the start about the friendship and an informal business partnership. Peter would put me in contact with the company which, over the next three years, would become my primary source of income,

136      I'm getting a little ahead of the story, but all these changes, writing a book, learning Chinese, and becoming a professional editor were only beginning to start in 2009. One other significant change also occurred. Another website,, attracted my attention and I started writing blogs on that site as well, and helping people learn English. The people there led me to what I way prefer to as the Facebook of China, or simply QQ. I love chatting on QQ because I can use both Chinese and English. But my use of Chinese was still limited in 2009. If all these changes seem a bit overwhelming it is because they were. My life was about to change. I just didn't know how, and how extreme, the changes would become.

Not becoming a nurse

137      Tomorrow's blog!