Shifting Sands

Today was supposed to be THE day. On one of my first RetirementallyChallenged posts, Picking a Date, I drew a line in the sand by declaring that I would retire on January 31, 2014. I did this so that I would have a date to focus on and to make the concept of retiring more real to me.

Sand shifts, lines get less defined, plans change.

Sand2

I knew that when I approached my manager with this date, the resulting discussion wouldn’t be a comfortable one. Although I would be giving plenty of prior notice (months, not weeks), I work with a pretty tight team, both in working style and in numbers. My leaving will create an unwelcomed challenge for my co-workers. The challenge will be temporary; work adjusts, life goes on, but our team is small enough that one person’s leaving impacts the others.

When I approached my manager a few months ago, although she expressed happiness for my new adventure, it was apparent that she was concerned about filling the void my retirement would leave. I felt guilty and conflicted. My resolve began to falter and I found myself looking for ways to “fix” this problem I was creating.

Yes, I whimped out, but only temporarily.

I will stay a few more months more to help with the transition. I will still be able to take my planned two-week road trip with my friend in March. And, when I return, my final two months will be made up of 4-day work weeks. Padding my savings a little bit more before the regular paychecks end probably isn’t a bad thing. Not leaving my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence makes me feel better about my ultimate decision.

Looking back, I’m glad that I set the January date. It prompted me to put the process in motion. The fact that my end date is a few months out doesn’t bother me too much. It would have bothered me more to have added extra stress to the lives of my team.

hourglass

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. – Johann Paul Friedrich Richter

Too Much of a Good Thing

Yesterday, my husband and I had a lovely day running a handful of errands, enjoying a relaxing lunch at an outdoor café, and spending the afternoon exploring a neighborhood we had never been to before. The weather was so sunny and warm we were able to drive around with our convertible’s top down.

This morning, I got out into our yard early before the bees showed up, to pick tomatoes from a “volunteer” vine that probably arose from the seeds of a discarded fruit from our summer crop.

photo

We don’t live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently their warm season. We live in Southern California, where we are in the midst of the worst drought in a century. Warnings of possible wildfires, dangers that we are used to hearing about in September and October, are filling the local newspapers and the airwaves. The governor has just declared a drought emergency and we fully expect that water-use restrictions will soon follow.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we replaced our thirsty front lawn with drought-tolerant plants. Most of our backyard is either covered in hardscape or planted with bushes and succulents, chosen for their ability to withstand long periods with little water. We realize that, although our home is near the coast, we live in a Mediterranean climate and our landscaping should reflect that. We don’t know what the next few months hold for us rain-wise, but if it continues to be dry, our plants will probably survive, and maybe even thrive.

Sticks of Fire

I love these August-in-January temperatures, but I also know that every season brings with it possibilities and challenges, both abundance and retreat, and each must build on the other for life to flourish and grow. The same dry weather day after day isn’t good for plants, animals, or people. It is dull, it is boring, and it can be dangerous.

As I was picking tomatoes this morning, my thoughts turned (as they do more-and-more these days) to my upcoming retirement. I wondered, as much as I enjoy working in the garden, would I be happy doing it every day? Would I be happy doing anything all the time? Although I am looking forward to having unstructured hours and limitless ways to fill them, I know that too much free time can turn out to be too much of a good thing.

Working five days a week and having only two days on the weekends to get things done, I often find that, come Sunday night, I’ve checked off only a few things on my to-do list, and I didn’t devote much time, if any, to pure enjoyment. After I retire, “enjoyment” will be tops on my to-do list, but that doesn’t mean that I want my days to be exclusively warm and sunny. I look forward to challenging myself by taking classes and learning new skills, obligating some of my time with volunteer work, and creating a certain amount of structure so that I can maintain my physical, mental, and emotional well-being for as many years as possible.

Just as we landscaped our yard in preparation for expected periods of drought and to better reflect the climate we live in, I am laying the groundwork for my retirement. I am setting up my financial life for when paychecks no longer regularly re-fill the coffers, and my personal life to be more self-directed and open to exploration.

Like our current endless summer, a retirement devoted exclusively to relaxation and leisure will soon grow dull, boring, and quite possibly dangerous to health and well-being. It will be important that I search out variety, welcome change, and strive embrace each season for its diversity and its possibilities.

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy” – William Blake

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

The Vision Thing

“Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action” Warren Bennis

I’ve never been a big proponent of writing New Year’s resolutions. The few times I actually wrote down what I resolved to do (or stop doing) in the new year, I would forget about the list by, say, January 5, and pick right up doing (or not doing) what I’ve done (or not done) all along. I am a creature of habit and it takes much more than a few words on paper to make big changes.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in setting personal goals or having a self-improvement plan. I just don’t think the arbitrary date of January 1 is necessarily the day to begin. I remember when I worked out regularly at a gym, I always avoided going the first few weeks of January because it was overrun with wannabe gym rats. I knew that by the end of January/early February, gym attendance would return to normal and I would no longer have to wait in line to use the machines.

As 2013 ends and the year that I will retire begins, I am going to try something different: writing a personal vision statement. I have written many vision statements over the years for various organizations, but I have never thought to craft one for my own personal goals, ambitions, and dreams. Although I know that, like New Year’s resolutions, just because something is written on paper doesn’t make it so, I think having a well-thought-out vision statement can help me stay focused on creating the future I want.

A simple Google search will yield tons of articles about writing a personal vision statement. Some have handy step-by-step instructions, some give examples of what one might look like. Most of the articles suggest that it be kept to just a few sentences and to write it in the present tense; as if you have already achieved your goals. Your vision statement can cover several areas of your life (e.g. health, education, and relationships) or focus on one particular dream or goal. The important thing is that it speaks to your soul and inspires you to move forward.

Before I started to craft my personal vision statement, I thought it would be helpful to make a photo collage that created a visual representation of my perfect future. I gathered up a pile of old magazines, a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a poster board and started to cut out pictures and words that resonated with me. As I assembled the pictures and words on my board, I discovered four main areas of focus: health and exercise, travel and recreation, creativity and art, and friends and food.

Photo Collage

Using this collage as my inspiration, I will next capture in words the life I want to create for myself as I move into retirement and beyond. I may not share the final product with anyone but I will re-visit it often to draw inspiration and to make sure I’m doing what I need to do in order to live the life I want to live. If any part of my vision statement no longer resonates, I can simply change it so that it reflects my new path.

(Over)Thinking Things Through

A little over ten years ago, in preparation for our wedding festivities, my future husband and I purchased a barbecue grill. We were hosting our rehearsal dinner in our back yard and planned to grill and serve carne asada to our guests. At that time, our yard was just dirt – we had not yet poured concrete for the patio nor did we have any landscaping to speak of. Because our vision for the backyard included a barbecue island, the grill we purchased was a “slide-in” and didn’t include a stand.

Not to be stymied, my very resourceful and skilled soon-to-be-husband welded up a temporary stand to hold the grill for that night and, we figured, for several months to come.

Ten years later, the grill is still sitting on that stand. As a shout-out to the hubby, the stand is still solid. Rusty, but solid. The grill has been moved from place to place over the years and gets a lot of use, especially in the summer. He built one terrific temporary stand.

That situation is about to change. Over the last few weeks (OK, months), we’ve been building our permanent barbecue island. Its metal frame has been screwed together, the cement board attached, and we are ready to add the countertop and siding material. Once that is complete, we will carefully remove our grill from its home of ten years, place it on its new resting site, hook it to the natural gas pipes, and fire it up.

BBQ

My husband and I never do anything quickly. We agonize over every detail and question every decision. We’ve made many false starts then have backtracked when we decide to go another way. I guess the good news is we are just alike this way; one of us paired up with a quick and sure decision maker would probably lead to disastrous results, or, at least, abject misery for both people.

Despite this flaw in both of our characters, we’ve managed to make some pretty good decisions (or, maybe non-decisions) along the way. Because of our propensity not to take compulsive action, we didn’t rush out of the stock market when past crashes have occurred (as they will again). We ride the market down, than back up again, taking advantage of “cheap” buys along the way. We didn’t rush into our marriage (only after 13 years of “dating” did we tie the knot) and we are likely not to make compulsive, poorly considered choices that will threaten our relationship.

After the barbecue island is built, we have a few more big projects to finish. Topping the list is the cabinetry in our living room (our remodel was completed, except for this area, about 15 years ago), and a wall between our house and our neighbor’s (should it be a block wall, wood, metal. or, maybe a combination? to replace a rickety wooden fence poorly constructed by a former neighbor maybe 8 years ago. We also have plenty of smaller projects to keep us busy for a while.

My personal goal was to have all of our bigger projects done by the time I retired. I envisioned being able to relax and enjoy our fully completed home for a few months before starting to tackle some of the smaller “to-dos” on my list. This is clearly not going to happen.

When the area for the living room cabinetry was designed years ago, flat screen TVs didn’t exist so the space is deep enough to accept an old-fashioned tube TV. This change in technology has caused our original design to be scrapped. I hope that we get the project done before we are all wearing virtual reality headsets, making the need for a TV obsolete. I really hate the thought of having to start the project all over again.

Color is the New Black

I have always been attracted to colorful clothing. In high school and college, when many of my friends were dressing all in black, I went for the reds, blues, and purples. I remember admiring the chic, sophisticated, kind of exotic vibe those black-clad beauties exuded, but it just didn’t feel right on me.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have any black in my closet; it just wasn’t the dominant color. You won’t find much black in my closet today either. I confess to owning several pairs of black slacks and jeans, one or two sweaters, and, of course, the “little black dress” someone told us we should all have, but mostly my clothes are more rainbow, less goth.

Apparently even at a young age I was color-blocking!
Apparently even at a young age I was color-blocking!

Lately I’ve noticed that I reach for black less and less. And, when I wear something black close to my face, I don’t feel as energized as I do when I have on something more colorful. When I see pictures of myself wearing black, I think I look tired and drained of color. Not a look I’m fond of.

As I observe women around me who are around my age or older, I see a lot of black clothing. Some are lucky to have that striking “winter” complexion that looks great in black but most do not. Maybe they chose black because it was “safe,” or they think it makes them look slimmer, or they had admired it on someone else (probably a “winter”) and hoped to achieve the same result, or, worst of all, they wear black to help them fade into the background.

I know there are plenty of wonderful fashion blogs out there for women over 50, and I don’t intend for RetirementallyChallenged to be one of them, but I like to look and feel my best and I know that wearing the right colors for me makes me feel great. I also love to see a woman over 50 embrace her age with confidence, joy, and style. She knows which fabrics, colors, and cuts look best on her and she wears those regardless of current trends. She might even feel that she could lose a few pounds, but she knows that black isn’t really all that slimming anyway and, besides, why would she want to fade into the background?

I’ve made a decision recently that if I don’t love it, I don’t buy it. In addition, if I’m not feeling the love from a previously-purchased piece of clothing, it is on its way out too. Life is too short to wear clothes that I don’t feel good in.

As my wardrobe makes the transition from being work-focused to being ready for anything retirement might bring, I know that my business clothes are on their way out. In addition to those items I will no longer have any use for, my favorite second hand store will be on the receiving end of my remaining black clothes.

When I’m there, maybe I’ll look through their racks for a new little black dress… in red.