Prior to my retirement, I dreamed about all the things I could do with my freed-up time. In addition to travel, creative pursuits, and enjoying friends and family, I was looking forward to vast amounts of time that I could fill up with anything I wanted. Reading, writing, gardening… whatever.
After being retired for a while, I started to explore the many emeritus programs and lifelong learning opportunities offered in our city. I always enjoyed school and learning new things, so this seemed like a great way to keep my mind engaged without the stress of grades.
The Oasis organization offers interesting lectures on a range of subjects and a variety of courses and workshops, all for a very reasonable price.
Our local Community College district has an Emeritus program that offers courses on an array of subjects as diverse as art, effective communication, writing, law, and music.
We also have robust Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) programs at two local universities. Joining Osher is more expensive than the other programs, but the quality of the offerings is top-notch. Not only are most of the lectures presented by college professors, but membership also includes the ability to audit many of the regular university courses.
In addition, smaller organizations, clubs, and businesses offer art classes, craft lessons, photography workshops, writing groups, and other learning opportunities for just about any interest.
Pre-Covid most of these classes and lectures were held in-person but the pandemic moved them online. Now, some remain 100% virtual, some are 100% in-person, and others offer hybrid, in-person and virtual attendance.
Not only are there a tremendous number of quality offerings, but the ability to attend many of the courses and lectures from the comfort of home makes it so convenient.
So, what’s the problem? I have found that it is too easy to overschedule myself.
I’m the type of retiree that gets twitchy when I have too many commitments on my calendar in one week (too many being more than one or two). I prefer to space out doctor appointments, get-togethers with friends, and anything else that requires me to be at a specific place at a specific time. I like my calendar to have lots of blank days. Now, with so many interesting classes and lectures, I’m suddenly scheduled just about every day, Monday – Friday. Granted, most of the classes only last 2 – 3 hours but they are usually in the middle of the day, making it difficult to do anything else, like going for leisurely walks or enjoying relaxed lunches with my husband. I have found that I am starting to look forward to weekends again.
On one hand, I want to sign up for everything that sounds the least bit interesting (which is a lot). On the other, I want more unscheduled time to do other things, or do nothing. I’m not sure what the right balance is, but I’m trying to find it.
Although I was never worried that I wouldn’t have enough to do in retirement, I know it’s a concern to some. My advice: don’t stress. After being retired for a little over eight years, boredom is the least of my worries.
This is the fourth short story I’ve written that has the current pandemic as an underlying theme. The other three: Lost and Found (in five parts), Be the Change, and Gathering Storm, can be found by clicking on the category Short Stories and Poems, above.
I hope you enjoy it.
Who Needs Who?
The quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of single-family homes was just what Jen was looking for. After spending most of her 20s and early 30s living in the beach area, she had been ready for a change. The traffic, noise, and loud weekend parties—things that she energized her when she was younger—had started to wear on her. Then, Covid hit, and it all became too much. Her friends acted as if they were immune and continued to gather, unmasked and in large groups. She grew tired of complaining, and she knew that her friends weren’t going to change, so she decided to move to an area where she felt more comfortable.
The cute, two-bedroom, one-bath, bungalow she found was perfect. The house was big enough to have a separate work-from-home office but small enough so she could afford the rent by herself. The days of dealing with roommate drama were over. Her move in November was more than just from one abode to another; she felt like she finally had transitioned from her unmoored youth into adulthood.
Jen knew that she was one of the lucky ones. Her job as a project manager was easy to do from home; in fact, she preferred working there. The windows in her office allowed soft light into the room and offered a relaxing view of her front yard and the street. Although she hadn’t had a chance to meet any of her neighbors face-to-face, she was starting to recognize a few familiar faces as they walked by or worked in their yards. She was relieved to see that they were careful to wear masks and keep their distance when interacting with each other.
Jen was especially intrigued by the woman who lived directly across the street. She reminded Jen of her grandmother who, at nearly 80, was a tiny ball of energy topped with a puff of gray hair. The woman even used a cane like Gram, although, from what she could see, her neighbor’s brightly-colored cane looked to be as much of a fashion accessory as a walking aid.
One Saturday morning in mid-January, as Jen was cleaning her office, she glanced out her window and saw her neighbor walking down her driveway to retrieve her newspaper. Jen’s thoughts turned to her Gram and how hard the Covid restrictions had been on her; how lonely and isolated she said she felt. Jen kept in touch as much as possible, but she lived several hours away and Gram’s facility still didn’t allow visitors. Despite their distance, Jen was happy to have been able to help her grandmother get her first vaccine appointment the prior week. As Jen navigated through the convoluted and frustrating process, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for anyone who wasn’t internet-savvy and didn’t have assistance.
As she watched her neighbor, it occurred to Jen that she might need help signing up for her Covid vaccine too. Offering assistance to her neighbor would give her a great excuse to introduce herself and, perhaps, do a good deed. Jen figured that her neighbor probably felt as unsure of the process as her grandmother had.
Later that morning, Jen put on her coat and walked across the street. She didn’t know why she felt anxious, but she put on a big smile to cover her nervousness and knocked.
After a few moments, her neighbor opened her door.
“Hi! I’m Jen. I moved into the house across the street a few months ago.” Jen smiled brightly, before putting on her mask. “I haven’t had the chance to meet any of my neighbors yet, but I’m really happy living here. This is the first time I’ve lived alone and, although I miss my roommates, I’m starting to appreciate the quiet.” Oh, gawd, I’m babbling like a nervous suiter, Jen thought to herself.
“Oh, hello, dear. I’ve been meaning to introduce myself and welcome you to the neighborhood but, well, you know, this virus makes those things so complicated. My name is Cora.”
Cora put on her mask, opened her screen door with her cane, and stepped onto her porch.
Jen’s confidence faltered a bit as Cora looked at her with questioning eyes. “Um, well, I was wondering if you might need some help setting up your vaccine appointment. The online process can be pretty confusing and there are a lot of forms to complete. I was able to help my grandmother, so I’m familiar with the procedure.”
“That’s so sweet of you. That would be lovely. I’m anxious to get vaccinated but I understand it can be difficult to get an appointment.”
Jen breathed a sigh of relief. “Great! I can either help you on your computer if you have one, or you can come over to my house and use mine. You can enter all of your personal information yourself, so you don’t need to worry about privacy.”
After some discussion, Cora agreed to meet later that day at Jen’s house. Jen assured Cora that they could do the work on her laptop outdoors in her small backyard. As Jen walked back across the street, she was filled with satisfaction. Not only was she helping someone who needed her assistance, Jen was also hopeful that she had just met her first friend in her new neighborhood.
That afternoon, sitting at a small table on Jen’s postage-stamp-sized patio, Cora and Jen worked together to find a vaccine appointment at a nearby facility. With Jen’s help, Cora filled out all the necessary information and, when they got to the screen that announced her success, they both spontaneously let out a cheer and clapped their hands. They both felt like they had won the lottery.
As Jen walked her new friend back across the street, she offered to drive Cora to her appointment the following Thursday. Although she knew Cora had a car, she figured her apparent leg injury might make driving difficult. Besides, if there was a long line or any other complications once she got there, Jen wanted to be able to help. Cora accepted her offer gratefully.
On Thursday morning, Jen sat in her tiny kitchen sipping her coffee. She had arranged to take the morning off from work and was looking forward to spending an hour or two with Cora. Jen knew that her Gram enjoyed their conversations and she imagined Cora would also appreciate having someone to talk to.
A half an hour before they were due to leave, Jen went out to her car to tidy it up. She tended to use the passenger seat as a desk and there often were notebooks and file folders strewn about. As she opened the passenger door to grab her stuff, she saw a neighbor walk towards her waving.
“Hi, there! I’m so happy to finally have a chance to meet you. I’m Lisa, I live in the blue house two doors down.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jen replied, smiling. “Sorry I don’t have my mask with me, but I was just getting a few things from my car. I’m driving Cora to her first vaccine appointment this morning.”
“That’s so nice of you! She is recovering well from her bike accident, but I know she still has trouble now and then.”
Bike accident? Suddenly Jen’s perception of her new friend shifted. As far as she knew, her Gram never cycled, and, even if she had, it would have been well before Jen was born.
“Um, yeah. I helped her get her appointment. It can be difficult if you aren’t comfortable with the internet… you know, dealing with the various websites and forms. I helped my grandmother too.”
Jen was surprised to hear Lisa laugh. “You helped Cora get an appointment?”
“Yeah?” Jen didn’t mean for that to come out as a question.
“Cora and her late husband used to own a computer consulting business before he became ill and they had to sell it. She knows Macs, PCs, and the internet better than anyone in this neighborhood. In fact, if any of us have an issue, she is the one we go to for help. We are lucky to have our very own Geek Squad on our block.”
Just then, Cora stepped out of her front door and waved. “Good morning! I’ve been looking forward to this day. I’ll be over in ten.”
“Well, you two have a nice time,” Lisa said. “I envy her. My appointment isn’t for a few weeks.”
Jen went back inside her house to dump her notebooks and grab her purse and mask. When she came out, Cora was standing by the car. Jen opened the passenger door and waited as Cora climbed in and settled her cane on the floor. After closing the door, Jen walked around to her side, got in, and turned towards Cora.
“Lisa tells me that you hurt your leg biking.” Jen cringed a bit at the accusatory tone of her voice.
Cora sighed. “I should probably give it up at my age. My grandkids and I love to ride in circles around their cul-de-sac. It was a way to spend time with them outside. I fell several weeks ago and got a bit banged up. My son tells me that I’m nuts, and he is probably right.”
“Lisa also says that you used to own a computer consulting company.” There was that tone again. “That you are always helping your neighbors with their technical problems.”
Jen could see Cora winch behind her mask. “Oops,” she said with a slight giggle. “I guess my secret’s out.”
“You probably didn’t need my help making your appointment.”
“No, I didn’t. But I was so touched by your offer, I couldn’t say no. You also seemed a little lonely and I thought you could use a friend.”
Jen turned back and started her car. Her face flushed with indignation. She felt foolish. How dare Cora take advantage of my generosity? And, then to make it sound like she was doing me a favor?
As Jen drove a few blocks further, she began to reconsider her initial reaction. She was the one who made the offer, after all. She had assumed Cora needed help because her Gram did. Besides, she thought, I am lonely, and I really could use a friend.
As she waited for the light to change so she could turn onto the main thoroughfare, Jen looked over at Cora and smiled. “How about after your appointment, we stop for coffee? I’d love to get to know you better.”
When I started my blog, my husband was the only one outside of the blogosphere to know. I wasn’t sure where this new adventure would take me, so I decided to keep it to myself. As time went on I started to tell a few good friends, unsure of their reaction or interest. Most were receptive and asked for the URL, a few said the equivalent of “oh, that’s nice… let’s talk about something else.” Now, after seven years, no more than ten non-blogging friends read my blog, or are even aware of it.
And that’s just fine.
I became curious about what others do when I noticed that many of my blogging friends link to their posts on Facebook. Some had blog-specific Facebook accounts, but most just linked from their personal page. I imagine many do the same thing from other social media accounts.
Most of the friends I have on Facebook are people I’ve known from my childhood or from my work life. Although many of them are actual friends – even close friends – not all are. Many are really just friendly acquaintances in practical terms.
I have made the choice not to link my posts. In fact, just the idea of it makes me very uncomfortable.
So, what gives? Why are some people happy to let anyone and everyone know about their blog, and others are happier keeping the worlds separate?
On a recent Zoom meeting, I asked this question of five blogger friends, and got a variety of answers. Although most of them didn’t share their blogs on social media initially, they now link their posts without hesitation. A few mentioned that their blog helps them keep in touch with friends and family, but all said that they write what they want (with some minor self-censorship if, for example, their mother reads their blog) and share freely.
This discussion made me wonder how other non-monetized, “lifestyle” bloggers feel about sharing with friends and family. Do most keep their worlds separate or are they comfortable sharing their blog… or maybe a little of both?
So, how about you?
Do you freely tell your friends and family about your blog? If you do, what has been the general response?
Have you ever censored or altered what you have written in a post knowing a specific person reads your blog?
Do you link your posts to social media? If so, do you use your personal account, or do you have a blog-specific account? What social media platforms do you use?
If you do share on social media, what has been your experience?
Has your sharing philosophy changed over the life of your blog?
Obviously, these are decisions that everyone gets to make for themselves, but I find the different approaches so interesting. I hope you’ll join the discussion and share your experiences – good or bad.
My husband and I were very strict about our personal isolation when Covid-19 started to be a thing. We planned our meals carefully and took advantage of shopping services when we needed groceries. We limited our interactions with friends and family to phone calls, emails, texts, and this new thing we’ve all learned about called Zoom. When we ventured out back then—for a walk or a drive—it was eerie how few people we encountered.
As time has progressed and more has been learned, we have adjusted our behaviors somewhat. We are still very careful about our interactions; we avoid crowds and don’t go anywhere we can’t control our physical distance from others. Anyone who thinks this whole thing is overblown or even a hoax, isn’t someone we choose to be around.
Although we still prepare most of our meals at home—same as pre-virus—we do get take-out from a few favorite restaurants now-and-then. We’ve enjoyed several driveway happy hours with small groups of friends, and I’ve attended a couple of book club meetings held in a member’s large backyard. We now go early-morning grocery shopping a couple of times a month at a small, local store and have ventured into Home Depot once or twice for needed supplies. We still take advantage of curbside pick-up when we can but, occasionally, we need to actually enter a store (we are the ones wearing both masks and gloves).
What we hadn’t done up until a couple of weeks ago, is to travel more than a few miles from home—and certainly not overnight.
Then, some good friends of ours (Kathy, of SMART Living 365, and her husband, Thom) invited us to visit them during their stay at a mountain cabin. The cabin—one they have rented every summer for many years—is located in a small community a little over two hours from our home. It is nestled among the pine trees, features a large deck and, best of all, has a guest cabin on the same piece of land—just perfect for a two-night stay.
After six months of restricted movement and limited social interactions, we decided that spending a couple of days in the mountains with—physically, but not socially distanced—friends was worth the extremely small risk. We knew that they were as careful as we are, and their generous offer came with the understanding that we’d all do what was safe and comfortable.
After so much time staying close to home, our short mountain get-away was rejuvenating . The vistas were gorgeous, the company warm and welcoming, and the conversations lively and thought-provoking. Although these last six months haven’t been the challenge for us that so many others have faced, we found that a change of scenery, new paths to explore and, most of all, spending time with good friends, was just the balm we needed to help sooth our souls.
I have been thinking about bringing back regular GratiTuesday posts for a while. Not only do I have much to be grateful for, I firmly believe that maintaining an attitude of gratitude improves mental health. And, frankly, who couldn’t use a bit of a mental health boast right about now?
I entered this special community of bloggers a little over six years ago. At that time, I was mainly focused on coming up with interesting topics, writing clearly and concisely, and trying not to embarrass myself too much with typos and grammar fails. Never did I envision the tremendous riches that I would get back. Through this community, I have learned about life in various parts of the world, discovered fascinatingly different lifestyles, been introduced to talented writers and artists, and – most of all – I’ve met the most kind, welcoming, engaging, and generous group of people.
Now, as we hunker down all over the world and do what we can to flatten the curve, I’ve come to appreciate my blogging community even more. Through what we write on our blogs and in our comments to each other, we show our concern for each other’s safety, we share our worry and challenges, we help each other remain positive, and we connect in ways that makes us feel less alone.
Whether we write about the topic du jour or we help take everyone’s mind off it by writing about anything but, the virtual connection is what’s important. Through our blogs, we are saying: “we’re here,” “we’re OK,” “I hope you are doing well,” “we’ll get through this.”
It’s easy to feel unmoored right now, but the blugs I’ve received from the bloggers I follow have made me feel less adrift. Blogging has always been a great way to connect with others, now blugging has made those connections even stronger.
I confess that I haven’t read Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize winning novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. The synopsis I found online said that it is about love, longing, heartbreak, redemption… and cholera. For some reason, the title of this book popped into my head as my husband and I prepare to spend a lot more time at home together.
The good news is that we like each other’s company. Since we both retired several years ago, we’ve balanced time spent together and time spent on our own or with others. While we enjoy many of the same interests and activities, we also are comfortable doing our own thing: reading, gardening, house projects, hobbies, etc. Having separate home offices and respecting each other’s need for “me time” has gone a long way to create a happy, healthy post-work relationship.
Unfortunately, in this time of the coronavirus, several events that we looked forward to attending have been cancelled. Museums and parks have been closed. Going out to lunch together – something we both enjoy – has become worrisome. Plans to get together with friends are being reconsidered. As the medical community and local governments ramp up their warnings, we find ourselves ramping down our interactions with others.
In this time of the coronavirus, we will need to depend on each other more. Lots of people will need support. Small business owners will struggle. Not everyone has the privilege of staying home from work with no negative financial impact. Many don’t have health insurance. Those who live alone will need someone to check in on them. Neighbors, especially those who are high risk, may need someone to get groceries for them.
In this time of the coronavirus, even as we hear more negative news, it’s important to savor the positive. Outside my office window, a gentle rain is falling. The trees are starting to bud and, just yesterday, I saw a bright yellow oriole – my first sighting of our seasonal visitor – perched on a branch. If I must stay home for a while, I have a stack of books that I look forward to reading and there are a few unfinished projects that I might actually get to.
In this time of the coronavirus, while we limit exposure, we can still affirm our love, welcome spring, plant some vegetables, watch a sunset, go for a walk, read a good book, listen to music, write a letter, call a friend, organize a closet, bake cookies, and enjoy the beauty around us. We may have to practice social distancing, but we don’t have to distance ourselves from much that nourishes us.
When Donna (Retirement Reflections), Kathy (Smart Living 365), and I started to plan last weekend’s blogger meet-up in Palm Desert, we asked each other to think of topics we wanted to discuss as a group. It didn’t take me long to pinpoint my #1 concern: “How can I better manage my time as a blogger?”
I know that I’m not alone in this struggle; I read posts regularly with the same basic topic: “I love to blog but it’s taking so much time out of my life.” Expanding the number of hours in a day doesn’t appear to be a viable option, so how do we find a better balance?
Before I retired, I thought about all the things I would do with my new freedom. Besides traveling and generally enjoying time with my husband and friends, I looked forward to activities like exploring my artistic side, focusing on healthy living, getting organized, cutting clutter, and joining a book club (or two). In addition to these plans and to give me an avenue to continue writing once I retired, I started this blog… just for fun.
During my four years in retirement, I’ve managed to keep very busy, but I realize that I’m currently devoting an inordinate amount of time to my “just for fun” blog to the detriment of my other desired pursuits.
When I started blogging, I searched for and eagerly followed other (mostly) retirement bloggers that I found compelling. As time went on, I expanded my follow list as I discovered even more interesting blogs. I loved the connections I was making and enjoyed the engagement and the interaction that comes with commenting and replying.
At our meet-up, I started to list the blogs I currently follow. When I got to 80 (and was still writing), I knew I was in trouble. Granted, I don’t write comments on all 80+ blogs, but I do on most of them. It was easy for me to see why I was feeling overwhelmed and overextended, and that something had to change.
Hibernating My Blog
Several bloggers I follow have taken a blogging break at different times for various reasons: some to travel, some to take care of loved ones, and some to allow time to pursue other interests. Donna took a complete break from all her electronic devices for seven weeks this past summer to better enjoy time with her family.
I have now decided to take a break too. My blog will go into hibernation during the months of November and December and, hopefully, wake up in the new year refreshed and renewed. During my time off, I won’t be posting or commenting on my blog nor will I read or comment on other blogs.
More of this, this, and this:
Less of this:
While realigning my retirement to focus on other pursuits, I will also be:
Corralling My Email Inbox
My inbox would make a sane person cry. I don’t know exactly how many emails are in there, but with all the blog post notices and other emails I get it must be approaching 1,000. I just about fell off my chair when Donna told me that she maintains a zero inbox (“Read, Act, Delete, or File”) I don’t know how she does it, but she is my hero. I want to get there.
Culling My Blog List
80+ blogs are just too many to read and comment on. To help me maintain a better life-balance, I need to determine which ones I especially love to read and best align with my interests. This will be a big challenge with so many great blogs out there but isn’t that a great problem to have?
Rethinking My Blog
Who knows what changes I will make to my blog, but I expect there will be some. After two months of hibernation it’s bound to awake a little leaner but also hungry to rejoin the blogging world.
November 1st is several days away (and I have one more post before then), but I am missing the blogging world already. The good news is that it’s in great hands and I’m comfortable that it will be here when I get back.
Enjoying the friendship of other couples is a delightful part of our marriage. I have female friends that I do gal things with and my husband has male friends he does guy things with. Although we like each other’s friends, sometimes when we’ve introduced a friend’s spouse to the mix, things haven’t clicked as well as we’d like. The spouse may be a delightful person on his or her own, but, for whatever reason, the group dynamic just doesn’t work.
When my husband and I discover a couple whose company we enjoy equally, we feel as if we’ve won the lottery. We know that when we get together as a foursome, the conversation will flow, and the time we spend together will be fun and engaging.
This past weekend, two blogging friends and I met up to discuss – what else? – blogging. This was not the first time I have gotten together with Donna from Retirement Reflections and Kathy from Smart Living 365, and I consider them good friends as well as fellow bloggers. I knew that the three of us would have plenty to talk about and I had been looking forward to our gathering for quite a while.
Kathy and her husband live in the community where we met, and Donna and her husband were staying close by in a home exchange. My husband and I drove a few hours from our home to join them for the weekend.
Knowing what wonderful husbands my friends have and knowing that my husband is pretty terrific too, I had no doubt that we’d enjoy each other’s company. What I didn’t anticipate – and was thrilled to discover – is how well all six of us meshed together. Even though blogging brought the three of us women together, I was delighted that our husbands enjoyed commonalities and mutual interests too.
I came away from our weekend together with much to be grateful for. I am grateful that Donna, Kathy and I were able to meet and talk about a subject that means a lot to us (more about that later). I am grateful for the generous hospitality that my husband and I were shown. Most of all, I am grateful that the six of us – husbands and wives – were able to break bread together, share our stories, and enjoy the bond of friendship.
Last Saturday, I attended a mini-reunion for my high school class. Since it wasn’t one of the big ones (those that end with a “0”), the event was low-key and casual. I almost didn’t go because the high school friends I maintain regular contact with (real contact, not occasional Facebook posts) were either out of town or had other plans for the evening. Since I’m not one of those who can walk into a crowd and instantly feel at ease, I questioned whether I’d enjoy myself. Our graduating class was large – around 600 – so (I told myself) the chances were pretty good that I wouldn’t remember many of the people.
After spending some time trying to talk myself out of going, I decided – with my husband’s encouragement – that I’d at least make an appearance. If after a short amount of time I wasn’t enjoying myself, I could leave. That’s one of the nice things about being an adult that I sometimes forget… I’m the boss of me.
When I entered the venue, my first reaction was that there were a bunch of old people there. Lots of grey hair and a few extra pounds padding quite a few mid-sections. Yikes! where were my classmates? Had I walked into the wrong event? After a moment’s hesitation, I convinced myself to take one lap around the room. If I didn’t see anyone I knew, I would keep on walking out the door and back to my car.
Fortunately, before I made a complete loop, I saw a familiar face… then another … then another. Those old people I saw at first? The years started to melt away and I began to see my high school friends. Sometimes I needed to glance several times at their name tags to be sure, but they were there.
Unlike past reunions, where there were a lot of “what do you do?” questions, followed by “how many kids do you have?” most of the conversations the other night centered around hobbies, travel, and day-to-day interests. Many of us had retired or were close and, for the most part, kids had grown and flown. The people I talked to were in relatively good health, they were active and engaged, and they were focused on enjoying life.
I heard the word grateful spoken many times that evening. Grateful for friendships that have lasted over many years, grateful for our families, grateful for our health, grateful for the experiences we’ve enjoyed since high school, and grateful that we decided to attend this gathering of our friends.
As is often done at reunions, a list of names of classmates no longer with us was read. Each time, the list grows longer, and, in this case, two names had been added very recently. It was a sobering reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to hold our friends and our loved ones close. After the names were read, the mood shifted just a bit. I think many of us found ourselves listening a little closer to our friends’ stories, hugging them a little harder, and, most of all, hoping that we will see everyone again at our next reunion.
A beautiful spring day, temperatures in the low 70s, a cloudless blue sky, four friends who have known each other since elementary school, and a -0.81 low tide making the beach wide and the tide pools inviting.
I am grateful for the beauty of this day and the company of dear friends.