Gratitude: Bloggers and Their Blogs

One of the items on my retirement “To-Do” list is to become a better photographer. I purchased a nice DSLR that I hope will help me take my photos to a level beyond the images I get from my point-and-shoot camera or my cell phone.

Despite—or, maybe because of—all the bells and whistles available to me on my new camera, I still find myself reaching for my cell phone when I want to take a picture. It is so easy to grab it and shoot. I don’t need to think about the correct aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. The results, while not great, are usually at least acceptable. When I pick up my DSLR camera, I feel overwhelmed with all of the possible setting combinations. If I take a photo and I’m unhappy with the result, I have no idea what went wrong. If it comes out well, I am equally perplexed as to how to recreate it.

Me and Camera

Because of some upcoming trips, I feel that I can no longer ignore my “grown up” camera. I really need to learn about its features and capabilities, and what all the mysterious dials and buttons do. I must finally wrap my head around the concept that a larger f-stop number indicates a smaller aperture opening. That a bigger aperture shortens the depth of field, while a smaller aperture will bring the background and foreground equally in focus. That the shutter speed and aperture settings work together to stop or blur motion, or allow photos to be taken in very low light or in extremely bright settings. Yikes!

Where do I go to educate myself? Blogs, of course.

Just as I have favorite blogs with cooking and entertaining information, travel tips, book reviews, opinions on politics and world events, and ones that make me laugh, make me think, or just make me feel as if I’m reading a letter from a friend, I am now reading blogs to help me learn more about my camera and how to take better pictures.

I continue to be amazed at the level of information available in the blogosphere. I am in awe of the generous souls who are passionate about what they do and have worked hard to become proficient, who now take the time to share their wisdom and talent with an unseen universe of strangers. Even if they have been able to monetize their blog, or hope to do so in the future, the information is still free and available to anyone who searches for it. Granted, the content on some blogs is questionable or just plain wrong, but I have found plenty of blogs that are well-written, beautifully designed, and full of information and inspiration.

I don’t know what it is that makes someone want to share so much of their knowledge with others, but I’m very grateful that they do. Because they blog, I have become a better cook and entertainer, I have read books that otherwise I might have missed, I have learned about different parts of the world, and I have had my mind opened to various points of view. I have also “met” quite a few interesting people that I wouldn’t have if not for their blogs.

I know that whether or not I become a better photographer is up to me but I am thankful to those who have helped me gain the tools I need to improve. I consider each post a gift and I am grateful that they placed it on their blog for me to open.

Party Nuts for Hire

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My husband and I worked for the same company before we retired. It is not only one of the largest employers in our city; it is also a major sponsor of a number of charitable and civic organizations.

Over the years, we have been invited to attend numerous events as company representatives. Neither one of us was high up on the corporate food chain, but when the company “bought” a table at an event and needed to fill seats, they could always rely on us to say “YES!” Not only were we enthusiastic, we didn’t need much advanced notice; he owns a tux, I have a few fancy dresses of various lengths, and we didn’t need to hire a baby sitter.

As surrogate “important people,” we’ve been fortunate to attend some really fun parties; most involved good food and wine and, if we were lucky, a band and a big dance floor. I thought it surprising that the company had a difficult time finding attendees but I realized not everyone had our flexibility or the same idea of fun. We, on the other hand, were usually ready, willing and able to fill in when asked.

One of my favorite events is a major fundraiser in support of a local hospice program.  The annual gala is held at a local resort hotel and consists of a silent auction/reception, sit-down dinner, and dancing. The following day, attendees are treated to a regatta on the bay aboard a number of personal yachts donated for the day. We’ve been invited to attend six or seven times and have always enjoyed ourselves immensely.  

boats

The fundraiser is in mid-August… for the first time in many years we have not been invited.

I’m not terribly surprised that these invitations will disappear now that we no longer work for the company, but I admit a sense of loss and regret. Yes, of course we could actually pay for our tickets, but most of these benefits have quite a high per-person price-tag, a cost that isn’t in our retirement budget.

Because we’d still like to enjoy the good life without actually paying for it, I am exploring the idea of starting second careers as professional event attendees. We’ve got a lot to offer and we won’t ask for anything in compensation beyond the cost of admission and, of course, the food, wine and festivities that go with it.

  • Last minute need to fill seats? Our closets contain a selection of clothes for a variety of occasions. With little notice we can dress up for a formal occasion, dress down for a barbeque, or anything in between. 
  • Worried that some guests might be shy and feel left out? We can make pleasant conversation with anyone. We know a little about a wide range of subjects, and we will strictly avoid the topics of religion and politics.
  • Want to assure the band isn’t playing to an empty dance floor? We can “break the ice” by being the first ones out. We are decent dancers but not so good that we’d discourage other couples from joining us on the floor.
  • Need someone to start the bidding at an auction or to deliver the first “impromptu” tribute for a guest of honor? Just tell us what needs to be done and we can start the ball rolling.
  • Party over, need people to leave? We can subtly yet firmly encourage guests to pack up and go home. We can do it seamlessly and without anyone catching on.

My husband and I can dress well enough to blend in, but not so well that we stand out. We can guarantee that our pictures won’t appear in the society columns.

No worries about us eating or drinking too much. We won’t crowd the buffet table or embarrass our hosts employers by heaping mounds of food on our plates. We also won’t run up the bar bill excessively and make fools of ourselves by over-imbibing.

We are, after all, professionals.

Although my husband and I donate regularly to a number of favorite non-profits and charities, usually the most we get in return is a sheet of pre-printed address labels or maybe a tote bag. Being professional attendees will give us the opportunity to enjoy the same events as do those who give big and who regularly eat and drink better than we do.

I think it could work. I’m going to contact our former company’s corporate giving department to let them know we are available for hire. Maybe there’s still time to get tickets to the August fundraiser.

Resiliency

Even those who deny climate change (or, at least the impact we humans have had) must have a hard time ignoring the wild swings of weather conditions the United States—and the world—has experienced over the last several years.

Those of us on the West Coast are in a severe, multi-year drought while those in other areas of the country have endured record cold temperatures. Now, I’m reading news stories about torrential rain and flooding on the East Coast.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Here in San Diego, fire crews are just finishing battling nearly a dozen individual wild fires that burned around 26,000 acres and required over 125,000 people to evacuate. Although California has had wild fires throughout the state’s history, this mix of low humidity, triple-digit temperatures, and hot, dry Santa Ana winds in May is most unusual… and troubling. No one is naive enough to think that we’ve seen the worst of it. This is just the earliest start of our fire season in decades. What we used to brace ourselves for in September and October could now be a threat year-round.

Our home was well away from the fires, but, along with so many others, we watched the scenes of the firestorms on the TV; cheering the heroics of the fire fighters as they battled the blazes in their attempt to save homes and lives. Because of their efforts, “only” around 70 homes were destroyed and no lives were lost (contrast that to 2003, when 2,232 homes were destroyed and 15 people died, and 2007 when 1,500 homes were lost and 9 died).

Now that most of the fires are fully contained the focus has switched from fighting the fires to mopping up and surveying the damage. It is heartbreaking to see the bewildered faces of people standing in front of what once were their homes. It is the same look seen after the devastating hurricanes, super storms, tornados, earthquakes, and so many other recent disasters we’ve witnessed.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

As I look at photos of the fires’ destruction, I wonder how the people who have lost their homes will be able to bounce back after such devastation. Most of them say—and it’s true—that it’s only “things” and they are lucky to be alive, but I know how much all of the “things” that are in a home can make us feel safe, connect us to our past, and help us define who we are.

A word that I am hearing more and more in the aftermath of these disasters is “resilience” as it relates to systems, nature, and people. Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back described resilient systems as being able to “sense and respond to their own state and to the state of the world around them, compensate or dynamically reorganize themselves in the face of novel shocks, decouple themselves from other fragile systems when necessary, fail gracefully, and have a strong local self-sufficiency.” I think much the same thing could be said of people who are resilient.

I don’t believe that we either are or are not resilient. Some who are perceived as fragile by others can exhibit great resilience when faced with a personal challenge or devastating loss. Others, who may appear to be strong and stoic on the outside, might not be able to bounce back as well. Not everyone reacts in the same way to traumatic and stressful life events, but there are steps we can take to become more resilient in the face of adversity. A resilient person will still experience difficulty or distress, but their resilience can influence their ability to recover, persist, or even thrive amid disruption.

We all experience traumas in some form, whether because of a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship or a job, or because of health challenges. What is important is to develop the tools—behaviors, thoughts and actions—now that will help us when we are faced with adversity. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), these attributes can be learned and developed by anyone. In order to increase our ability to be resilient, the APA suggests that we foster these important personal foundations*:

• Cultivate caring and supportive relationships, both inside and outside the family
• Nurture relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance
• Develop the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• Maintain a positive view of one’s self and confidence in our strengths and abilities
• Develop skills in communication and problem solving
• Learn to manage feelings and impulses

We all will face increased challenges as we age; the death of loved ones, decreased physical capacity, perhaps a serious illness or even a natural disaster. Building our resilience now will help us better respond and adapt.

heart2

“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces”

– Shane Koyczan

* This list paraphrases a list from the APA’s brochure The Road to Resilience.

Puzzling Together the Pieces

With only eight short weeks remaining before I leave the 8-5 work world and begin my next chapter, I am experiencing an array of emotions. Excitement and enthusiasm, yes, of course, but also… not quite fear… more like apprehension and just a little unease.

Barring a huge economic downturn (which we now know can happen), I feel in good shape financially. Health insurance—at least for now—is available and budgeted for. Because I have a pre-existing condition due to an illness many years ago, without the Affordable Care Act I’d be concerned about the possibility of not finding coverage.

My unease stems mostly from two questions that I can’t answer yet:

What if this is the wrong decision?
Although I could probably find another job if I discover that I absolutely hate not working full time (something I doubt very much), it would be hard to match what I do now – both in salary and in satisfaction. Because my intention to exit work has gone from concept to commitment, I am feeling the finality of my decision.

A part-time job could provide some structure without a major time commitment, but then I would lose the freedom to pick up and go anytime my husband and I wanted to. Consulting? Maybe, but I’d have to spend time marketing my services, which doesn’t sound like much fun.

How will I replace the social network that I’ve developed at work?
Knowing that this was one aspect of retirement that my husband had a hard time with, I’ve become acutely aware of the large and small interactions that occur throughout the work day. Even simple greetings and casual conversations add to my enjoyment and I know that I will miss the easy comradery of being a member of a well-functioning team.

Over the years, I have developed varying levels of friendships with co-workers. Some of them I see outside of work, and I hope that will continue, but most are those types of friendships that are based on our shared circumstance. I imagine that most of these relationships will fade away soon after we are no longer working together. Our intentions might be sincere, but it will really take an effort—most likely mostly on my part—to stay in touch. Because they will still have the constraints of a full-time job, it will be up to me to arrange get-togethers that fit around their schedules.

Bucket

I know that the most effective way to mitigate my concerns is to start putting in place several items on my “bucket list” of activities I want to enjoy in retirement; the ones that I find difficult to do now because of time constraints. A few that come to mind are:

Find—or start—a book club
I have “test-driven” several established book clubs over the years, but have yet to find one with the right combination of serious and social. Great books and stimulating conversation, enjoyed in a social atmosphere that includes shared food and wine… that is what I’ll be looking for.

Identify exercise buddies
Soon I will be able to go to the gym, power walk, ride my bike, take yoga, etc. anytime I want so I need to find others who are on a similar non-schedule. There are lots of things I like to do alone, but friends can make exercise more enjoyable and help maintain the motivation.

Sign up for some classes
After years of reading longingly about classes, workshops, lectures, etc. that I couldn’t participate in because of my work schedule, I can now attend! Although I expect that my desire to learn new things will be ongoing, I want to identify a few possibilities right away so that I am inspired to get up, get dressed, and get going.

Volunteer to usher for a local theater
There are a lot of worthwhile causes and organizations that need volunteers, and I hope to identify several to give my time to. By ushering for a theater company, I not only provide a valuable service, but I will see performances I might otherwise miss. Because these opportunities are seasonal, and most likely have waiting lists and specific training schedules, I want to be sure I don’t miss a deadline.

Old Globe

Between several of these activities, all the projects that need to be done around the house, and a couple of trips we have planned this year, I should be quite busy. I hope that soon whether I made the right decision and how I will create a new social network will no longer be in question.

Daze of Our Lives

Last night, my husband and I had an “ah-ha” moment that helped to bring into focus some of the challenges we will face when we are both retired. Fortunately it wasn’t too serious, but it made us realize that we had better start putting a few tools in place that will help us keep our lives organized.

memory

I’ve always been the main “keeper of the calendar” in our relationship. I know when we have social events planned, vacations scheduled, and (usually) due dates we must meet. I am the one who is expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries (both for his family and mine), and remember them enough in advance so cards can be purchased and mailed in time. For the most part, I’m able to keep most things straight by utilizing my Outlook calendar at work. Along with work-related meetings, events, and appointments, I add reminders of personal dates that I need to keep track of. Since I regularly access my calendar while I’m at work, and my cell phone is set up to alert me with reminder notices, this system has worked pretty well for us.

After finishing dinner and settling down to watch a little TV last night, I fired up my iPad to check my email and read a few blogs I follow. Good thing I did, because right there, on one of my favorite financial/political blogs (andrewtobias.com) was a reminder to “rush to the mail box with your fourth quarterly estimated 2013 tax payment, if you owe one.” Oh, crap.

Normally, this is something my husband might be expected to remember. He’s always been more focused on our financial lives and it’s mostly because he’s retired that we have to pay quarterly taxes in the first place. But, he’s currently taking a pretty intense culinary arts class which includes a fair amount of homework, so lately, he’s more about sheet pans than spreadsheets. In addition, over the past year-and-a-half of his retirement, I can tell that his attention is slowly shifting (as it should) from number-crunching and calculations, to exploring his creative side and spending time doing the things he’s always wanted to do.

Later this year, when I join my husband in retirement, it will be imperative that we have established a reliable and user-friendly way to organize our lives. The tool (or tools) will have to have a paper component because I like to have something physical in front of me as a reminder, and I don’t expect to be on my computer, tablet, or cell phone as often as I am currently. The tool will have to have an alerting function to ping us when pre-established dates and times arrive, and, it will have to be flexible enough to be able to send the alerts to just me, just him, or to both, depending on how each reminder is set up.

With all of the available computer tools, software, and billions of downloadable apps, I’m pretty sure we will have many serviceable options to choose from. I hope it will be just a matter of picking the one that best fits our needs and then setting it up so that it helps keep track of the day-to-day so we can get on with enjoying our journey.

After realizing our mistake last night, we quickly found the required paperwork, made the needed money transfers, and wrote our checks to the state and federal tax agencies. The postmark will be one day late, and we may get dinged, but it was a relatively cheap wake-up call that won’t go un-answered.

Ten Things I Learned About Retirement from Downton Abbey

As I move towards retirement, I have gained wisdom and guidance from many sources. Books, blogs, articles, and especially friends who have gone before me, all have helped pave the way and have made me more comfortable with my coming transition.

Tonight, as I anticipate the start of Season 4 of Downton Abbey, I realized that even the Crawleys, along with their extended family and staff, can teach me a thing or two about the road ahead.

try new things

1) Don’t stay in a rut. Try new things – even if it involves wearing unattractive outfits.

entertain

2) Stay connected with friends and entertain often. Everyone loves a barbeque!

weekends

3) Don’t forget what a weekend is. It’s that thing at the end of those other days you’ll lose track of.

idle

4) Don’t be idle. There’s always something to do, even if it’s just getting lost in a good book.

still working

5) Don’t forget that others are still working. Be grateful and respectful of their time.

travel

6) There is so much out there to see. Travel as often as possible.

frump

7) No need to start dressing like a frump just because you’re no longer going to work every day.

excercise

8) Exercise often. Even better, exercise with friends.

technology

9) Stay current with new technologies, and don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone.

you never know

10) You never know how long you – or those you love – will be around. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.

“Life is short, live it. Love is rare, grab it. Anger is bad, dump it. Fear is awful, face it. Memories are sweet, cherish it.” – Unknown

So, what are you doing?

Reunion Pic1_PS

Last night I attended my 40th high school reunion. It was a little overwhelming to be surrounded by so many classmates that I’ve lost touch with over the years. I can count on two hands (and have a few fingers left over) the number of friends from back then that I still see even on a semi-regular basis. Of course Facebook “friends” add more to that number, but those contacts consist of periodic updates, not what I’d classify as actual relationships.

Although it was tempting – and would have been easier for me, an introvert in intense social situations – to spend most of the evening among friends I am still in contact with, I found myself drawn to those that I didn’t know very well in school. By venturing out of my comfort zone, I discovered quite a few classmates that weren’t in my circle of friends back then, but who I now wish I had known better over the years.

When we were in high school, I’ll wager that most of us wouldn’t have been able to predict what we would be doing 40 years later. Not only were we not fully-formed human beings capable of picking our adult careers, many of the jobs we hold now didn’t even exist then. Hopefully, our definition of a desirable mate has advanced past the low bar many of us set back then. What we did for “fun” back then probably would bore, or in some cases horrify, our adult selves.

I loved hearing about what my former classmates are currently doing. Many of them are working at interesting jobs; several were retired or, like me, close to retirement; some had avocations that were much more interesting and fulfilling than their vocations.

When invariably I was asked “so, what are you doing?” I found myself at a bit of a loss. I have a great job, but it’s hard to describe well in a few sentences. Besides, I won’t be doing it anymore in a few months. I wish I had been able to talk about an exotic trip I had taken recently, a cause I was lending my time to, or maybe an artistic journey I was in the middle of.

So, what am I doing? I’m focused on creating a new life in retirement; a life that is active, interesting, fulfilling, and one that will give me a lot to draw from when someone asks me what I’m doing.

Being “Rich” Then, and Being “Rich” Now

This coming weekend, my high school class will be holding our 40th reunion.  Although I missed our 30th (I was busy getting married that weekend), I have attended the others, including a hastily put together 35th held at a local bar.

Because this is a big one, it is being held at a yacht club located in the same community in which I grew up. I was never a member of this yacht club – or any other yacht club – but I had friends who were.

I grew up smack dab in the middle of the kids who came from very rich families and those whose families were struggling.  Although I remember admiring the beautiful homes and bountiful wardrobes of my better off friends, I don’t remember resenting them for what they had.  Nor do I remember them treating me differently because of my lack of societal status.  I’m sure I didn’t get invited to certain events, but either I didn’t know about them or I didn’t care.

I also had friends from families facing economic challenges, whether they were from struggling single-parent homes (which were much less common in the 70’s), or who had parents (usually just the father back then) that faced unemployment or underemployment.  Just as with my better off friends, as long as we all liked each other and had similar interests, we were pretty agnostic about each other’s social and economic status.

I understand that this was just my experience. I’m sure others experienced hostility, bullying, or the pain of feeling like an outsider.  Maybe because I was lucky enough to have good solid family unit that was neither rich nor poor, my memory of my high school years is, for the most part, positive, and my circle of friends fairly economically diverse.

My expectation is that the forty years since graduation will be a great equalizer.  Certainly many of my financially well-off friends, whether because of their own hard work or the luck of their birth, will still be well off (and probably members of the yacht club). I think, though, that there will be a lot of surprises. As we get older (and, hopefully wiser), being rich, poor, or somewhere in between, may be less a description of the money we have in our bank accounts, and more a description of our health and happiness.  Using this barometer, I hope we are all rich beyond the wildest dreams of our younger selves.