A few weeks ago I was talking to my old friend Jack Riley, proprietor of Greens Farms Spirits. Jack and I were Little League coaching adversaries, oh, about a thousand years ago, and we were laughing about some shared memories. Somehow the conversation worked its way around to golf, and I mentioned that after resisting it my whole life, I just started playing last spring.

"I'll bet your youngest kid is about to graduate from high school," he said, with the knowing look of someone who'd been there.

Well, he certainly nailed it: The last of our three sons marched up to get his Staples diploma last month. But did my venturing into the long-avoided world of bunkers and fairways really have to do with our youngest son flying the coop?

Come to think of it, trying my hand at golf wasn't my only routine-changer. For more than 30 years I've been an every-day, rain-or-shine runner. That's my go-to exercise. I've never really been a gym guy. But in May I took out a membership at Southport Racquet Club. I've started taking some classes -- Body Pump, Abs, Spinning. I even let a friend talk me into sampling a yoga class. Breaking lots of new ground.

Also, I've nursed a bad case of surfer-envy for a long, long time. Body-surfing I've done forever, but the idea of riding the waves upright always seemed awesome. Recently I've tried a few lessons. I haven't had a whole lot of success yet; in fact my youngest son tells me I suck at it. But last weekend I bought a surfboard, and I'm going to keep trying. After all, he won't be around to watch and make fun of me that much longer.

And it's not only in the sports and recreation area I seem to be branching out. For about seven years I've been teaching writing courses for adults at Trinity College, every spring and every fall. My regular students have often asked if I'd run a writing workshop to keep them going through the months between semesters, and I've always declined. This summer, for some reason, I said yes.

I've also been looking into the idea of getting my MFA in creative writing. It's something I've been vaguely wanting to do for awhile, but figured I didn't have the chunk of time to do it. Now, it looks like I might just have some time on my hands.

And then there's my study. I have an office on the third floor of our house. It's a converted attic, and it's an ideal workspace, with a big dormer and skylights that makes it feel like I'm perched in a canopy of treetops. For years, though, I've let the clutter get so out of control that now I can barely make if from the door to my desk. Finally, just recently, I embarked on a massive and comprehensive study reclamation project.

Similarly, I sensed the need to make order out of chaos with the boxes and boxes of photos that have been growing in one of my study storage spaces. For our early married years and until our youngest son was two years old, we kept our photo albums immaculately up to date. Then, as a second and a third son were born, the albums fell by the wayside, and the boxes started. Now there are 28 years worth of boxes.

So what's the thread behind all this branching out and neatening up? Well, our oldest son turns 30 next month. One week later, our youngest son heads off to college in California. That will end a run of 30 straight years with sometimes three, sometimes two -- but always at least one son in the house. Thirty years of coaching Little League. Thirty years of helping with homework. Thirty years of driving boys to play dates, to school, to football practice. Thirty years of round-the-clock ESPN. Thirty years of tuck-ins and lie-downs.

We've heard all about what couples go through when they're about to have their first child -- the tossing out, the clearing away, the making room. It's called, of course, the nesting instinct.

I guess what I'm learning is that there's an empty-nesting instinct, too.

In addition to "The Home Team," which appears every other Friday, you can also keep up with Hank Herman's blogs: "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/; and "Old School, New School," on the Hearst website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/oldschoolnewschool.