RetirementallyChallenged has taken a detour today and ended up in the Boomer Lane!
If you don’t know already, Life in the Boomer Lane is a wonderfully funny blog that looks at the absurdities of the world through the eyes of a former hula hoop champion. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to provide a guest post for the Guerrilla Aging series she publishes every Friday.
Click here to read my post, Guerrilla My Dreams, then take a moment to read some of Renee’s past posts… I’m sure you’ll add her to your must read blogs just like I did.
Recently, my husband and I met with an attorney to draft our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. We wanted to get these done now while we are both in good physical and mental health. Over the last several years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends. We do what we can to stay healthy but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it can’t happen to us. Even if we live to 90 or beyond, these documents will be necessary to assure that our wishes are carried out.
Creating these documents is serious and time-consuming. There are a lot of uncomfortable details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process to be determining where our assets will go once we were both gone. Since we have no children, we happily specified a few charities that are near and dear to our hearts. What I found the most difficult was deciding what I wanted done with my remains. Although cremation is a given, where do I want my ashes to go?
When my mother passed away in 2000, I was relieved to discover that she and my father had made funeral arrangements many years previously. Because of this, my brothers and I weren’t faced with the burden of trying to guess what she would have wanted. It was a generous and loving act that we appreciated again when my father passed away several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Since meeting with the attorney, I have done some research and I think I’ve found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for awhile, but now there is a way we can actually become part of a tree once we are gone.
I found several options: Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, and Peotrees, and I’m sure there are others. The prices vary, but the concept is the pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. And, since ashes contain phosphorous, they contribute to the healthy growth of the tree. How great is that! I have always considered myself a tree-hugger, but now I can actually provide nourishment to the tree! Rather than becoming post-consumer (as in me, the consumer) waste, I can contribute healthy Co2 to the atmosphere for many years to come.
Most of the companies that sell these urns offer a choice of tree seeds. Maple, oak, ash, and beech are a few of the options on one of the websites. Living–and most likely dying–in southern California, I’d probably choose a tree that’s drought resistant, or maybe a citrus. A lime tree, perhaps, so my juices could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or my slices muddled to make a mojito.
Since we are pretty sure we can’t take it with us, my husband and I intend to spend most of our assets having fun in our retirement (sorry, designated charities), leaving just enough for a heck of a Celebration of Life party for our friends. Although I’d like to think we will leave the world a better place, most likely our names won’t be remembered by generations far into the future. They won’t be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.
I will ask that my ashes be used to propagate a tree planted in our back yard. Becoming a tree, a symbol of eternal life in many cultures, will allow me to live on, providing some beauty, a little shade, and perhaps adding a refreshing zest to the drinks of future homeowners. Maybe they will raise a toast to my memory.
Several years ago, I cut out and thumbtacked to the bulletin board in my office a section of an article about relationships. The article must have contained a list of “dos” and “don’ts” because this one was labeled “No. 16.” I have no memory of numbers 1 through 15, nor any that proceeded Number 16, but this one stopped me mid-read, and prompted me to get up and grab my scissors.
No. 16 Don’t Be the Ricky
On the 1950’s sit-com I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo had very different ways of approaching life. Lucy was always doing crazy stuff and getting into trouble. Ricky was always there to bail her out of whatever disaster she got herself into. The premise of Number 16 was that people tend to either be Rickys or Lucys.
Rickys are practical, responsible, and live life relatively conservatively. In a relationship, they are the caretakers; the ones who make sure the bills get paid, the finances are in good shape, and plans are made and followed.
Lucys, on the other hand, are crazy, fun-loving, and charmingly irresponsible. They have a “live for today” attitude. They are the ones who are out having fun and not paying too much attention to the consequences.
Number 16 warned about being a Ricky (who is stuck being responsible) while your partner is being a Lucy (forever starry-eyed, wacky, and impractical). One person is Homer, and the other Marge. One is Hans Solo, the other Princess Leia. The message was that one was having way more fun than the other.
I have a dominant Ricky gene. My husband also is a Ricky. We know how to have fun, we enjoy being silly, we even can be pretty creative (after all, Ricky Ricardo was an accomplished singer and bandleader) but, for the most part, we have a vision of what we want to accomplish and we take the steps necessary to get there. Most likely, being Rickys throughout our working lives has helped us get where we are today: being able to retire relatively young.
That’s not to say that Lucys are all screw-ups who have great fun but are ultimately destined to be financially unsound or be dependent on Rickys to save them. Some people I love and admire are Lucys. I imagine that many brilliant multi-gazillionaires are shoot-for-the-stars Lucys. Who knows, when I decided to cut out and keep that article, if I had been more of a Lucy I may have had the crazy idea to create some sort of an online bulletin board that people could, I don’t know… maybe “pin” interesting items to. And, throwing caution to the wind, I may have sold everything and taken out ill-advised loans to fund that insanity.
My husband and I got where we are today by saving more than spending, economizing more than splurging. That’s not to say we haven’t had great adventures or wonderful experiences, but we have said “no” to opportunities more than we would have liked, and probably more than we needed to.
Suddenly becoming total Lucys is probably not possible or desirable. Rickyness is in our DNA, and that’s not a bad thing; it will most likely keep us out of trouble as we get older. But I think we have reached a point in our lives when we should start channeling our inner Lucys regularly. We need to say “yes” more often, seek out some crazy adventures, and do a few marvelously impractical things that may leave the Rickys out there scratching their heads.
With just over a month left before I retire, I find myself mentally checking off the last (insert here) that I will experience before I leave. On Friday, I gave my last work-related presentation before a large audience. Tomorrow, I will go on the last of many, many business trips I’ve taken over the years. Pretty soon, I’ll submit my last expense report, then I’ll make the last drive to and from work, and, soon after that, I’ll receive my last regular paycheck.
I look forward to checking off some of these “last ofs,” but others are more bittersweet. Happiness mixed with sadness, excitement mixed with unease. I’ve changed jobs many times over my working life, but I was always transitioning from one cocoon to the next. I left behind the comfort of a familiar social circle and known responsibilities, but I knew that soon I would bond with my new co-workers and ease into a new routine.
Synonyms for “routine” are “monotonous,” “dull,” “tedious,” and “mundane,” but routines can also be positive and comforting. I begin each day with a cup of French-pressed coffee and end it by reading a bit before turning out the lights and going to sleep. Some routines won’t change when I’m retired, but others that lend a comfortable consistency to my work week will be gone. There will be a last team meeting, the last seminar I host, and my final walk through the door when the workday is done.
Of course, there will be many “last ofs” that I won’t know are the last until they are gone: the last shared laugh with a colleague about some work-related absurdity, the final time a co-worker offers to help me with a task, the last of many, many kindnesses I’ve been shown over the years by the people I work with. It’s the people that I will miss the most (although. I admit, the paycheck is a close second).
On May 17, I will begin a series of “first ofs” that being retired allows me to experience: the first of my weekends that won’t have a bunch of errands crammed in over two days, the first Monday morning that won’t require an alarm to get me up, the first Wednesday that’s not a “hump day” because there is no longer a hump to get over. Soon, my husband and I will take our first road trip that has a start date, but no set end date because we don’t have to meet anyone else’s schedule.
Many of the “last ofs” will be hard and I’m sure tears will be shed, but I am looking forward to the “first ofs,” and hope to add as many of them to my new life as possible.
I was going through my husband’s closet the other morning helping him find something (yes, I found it… I always do) and realized that he has a bunch of clothes that he has very little use for just taking up space. Since retiring two years ago, he has seldom, if ever, worn one of his several nice suits. He’s had little need for a sports coat, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t worn a tie more than a handful of times in many years. His current attire mostly consists of jeans or shorts and a comfortable shirt. He wears khakis once in a while, but often with flip-flops. Now that he’s taking culinary classes (for fun), he heads to school wearing funny striped chef pants and a chef’s jacket.
I suggested that we make some time soon to weed through his clothes. He will keep a few remnants of his past working life for those more formal events that come up now and then, but I hope we can get rid of a lot of items that no longer fit into his life.
In anticipation of my retirement, I stopped purchasing work-specific clothes awhile ago. No more pencil skirts, no more pumps; nothing that tends to function only as business attire. That’s not to say that I envision a retirement wardrobe entirely made up of “play clothes,” but I think the items I will reach for most often will be on the casual side, and definitely comfortable.
I plan to donate many of my work-specific clothes and shoes right away. Those that I can’t quite let go of yet, I will box up—with a date indicated on the outside—and store them somewhere convenient, but outside of my closet. If I go one year without needing the clothes, they will be donated too.
When my husband and I remodeled our house years ago and added the upstairs master bedroom, I got my own, rather large, closet. At first, the clothes I had barely took up half the available space, but, over the years, I’ve managed to fill it up… and then some (I’m much better at intake then I am at outgo).
Culling our belongings is an initial goal of our grand retirement plan. We are looking forward to acquiring more experiences than possessions, and putting greater value on traveling light and often rather than being burdened by schedules and obligations.
Of course, clothes are not the sole focus of our efforts to clear out the cutter. We have too much crap stuff in general and I think it is getting in the way of our ability to enjoy a calmer and more organized home. We are by no means hoarders, but let’s just say that, as we’ve navigated through our life together, we’ve picked up a few barnacles along the way. Many of the things we’ve acquired to complete our home are now just bulk we no longer need to balance our lives.
It will take some time and effort, but we need to scrape off the hull and empty the bilge. Life is too short – and getting shorter. It’s time to drop some ballast and sail on.
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.
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.
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.
I am back in Southern California following my two-week vacation (“Practice Retirement”) spent driving across the country with a friend. The trip was a positive experience overall and I’m happy I was able to have the adventure.
Looking back, I have several observations that I need to consider for future road trips I hope to take with my husband after I join him in retirement.
Bring a paper map
In an earlier post, I wrote of my love of paper maps. Although we were well-equipped with a GPS, two iPads, and a smart phone to help us get from here to there, I would have felt lost if I hadn’t had my US Road Atlas with me so I could track our progress along the way.
Keep a journal
I brought along a small tablet for general note-taking, and, every evening, to write a page or two about my experiences that day. Because often details can slip away from the memory banks, keeping a journal helps me capture moments I don’t want to forget.
It will also come in handy, if I ever pass that way again, to help me remember what not to miss – places to eat, things to see, experiences to be had.
Be aware that small moments can become big memories
Random conversations with strangers, eating at a local hole-in-the-wall, seeing a rainbow through an opening in an otherwise cloudy sky. These are the experiences that stay with me and make the journey most memorable.
Don’t be shy
I am not an extrovert by nature, but, over the years, I have become more and more comfortable striking up conversations with people I don’t know. Away from home, I think this practice is even more important. I had a so many enjoyable interactions and learned so much just by opening myself up and initiating conversations.
Often a simple “hello” said with a big smile can be the beginning of a memorable exchange. Even if I only got a smile in return, that’s one more smile to add to my day.
Try the local cuisine
Since we were traveling along a southern route, we had the opportunity to chow down on barbeque in Texas, slurp gumbo in Louisiana, and sample fried pretty-much-everything in multiple southern locals. I’m not a big fan of bacon fat and I prefer my vegetables fresh as opposed to being smothered with oil and cooked beyond recognition, but I thought it was important to at least taste everything.
When we wanted to take a break from heavy food, we looked for, and often found, a Panera along the way so we could supplement our diet with fresh salads.
Make room in the suitcase for a little vanity
Because it was just my girlfriend and me for two weeks, I didn’t bother to bring any make-up. Although it was freeing to just wash my face and go, I often wished that I packed a little something to brighten the bare face that stared back at me in the mirror every day.
Although I don’t wear a lot of make-up (and often none at all on the weekends), I know that wearing at least a bit makes me feel perkier.
Allow for alone time
Even though it would have been cheaper to share, it was money well spent to have separate hotel rooms along our route. My friend has very different sleep habits than I do (she stays up late, and rises late in the morning), and, after spending many hours together in the car, I needed to have some time by myself.
Fortunately, my husband and I share sleep schedules so we won’t be needing separate rooms, but having a bit of time by myself allows me to recharge my batteries. I do much better and am much less cranky if I can carve out an hour or two of “Me Time.”
Only pack what is needed (and learn to need less)
I had envisioned that I would post to my blog regularly during my trip. In the end, I managed to make only one post, and it was more difficult than I thought it would be.
I love the writing process. I write, I edit, I rearrange, I delete, I fuss, I re-write. I brought along a laptop because I thought it would be too hard to do that on an iPad. Now, I’m not convinced that the laptop helped at all, and it added bulk and weight to my luggage.
Before going on another trip during which I want to blog, I need to practice writing and posting from my iPad.
In two weeks, we went through three time zones and fourteen states. We experienced temperatures up in the 70’s on down to the low 20’s. We enjoyed warm sunshine, thick clouds, bone-chilling wind, and driving rain storms. I rode a bigger-than-life, cut-out buffalo, visited Elvis’ birthplace, and got to view Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks so close I could almost smell the coffee.
I missed my husband, my house, and sleeping in my own bed, but I’m so happy I didn’t miss this journey.
Many years ago, as part of a workshop on effective communication, I saw a video called “Going to Abilene.” It illustrated the “Abilene Paradox,” which is a term used to describe the tendency for group to agree to support a belief or action that directly contradicts what the individual members of the group actually believe is right. This tendency is often referred to as “Groupthink.”
The video dramatized (actually, “dramatized” may not be the correct term since, as I remember, the acting was pretty terrible) the story of a family relaxing on a hot afternoon in Coleman, Texas. One member suggested driving up to Abilene for ice cream. Despite it being a 50-mile drive, someone else said that it sounded like a good idea. Then another family member, not wanting to be disagreeable, also said “let’s go!” Soon, they were all piled into an old, non-air-conditioned station wagon, driving in the heat and dust to Abilene.
When they returned home four hours later, hot, exhausted, and out-of-sorts, they discussed what they had just done. It soon became clear that none of them, even the person who suggested it, really wanted to make the trip in the first place. They had all agreed “just to get along,” because they thought it was something everyone else wanted to do.
I was so impressed with this concept that I told my husband about it, and “are we going to Abilene?” soon became our code question when we needed to check out whether or not we both REALLY wanted to do something. 20 years later, we still use it.
So, of course, when planning my trip across the United States, when I saw that we would be passing near Abilene, I insisted that we make it one of our stops. Fortunately, my traveling partner agreed; not just to get along, but because it sounded like a good idea to her too (at least I think so…).
Abilene turned out to be a charming town. We ate some great Texas barbeque, met a number of terrific people, and found several wonderful photo ops. I think I’d like to make a trip back here when I can spend more time exploring.
I’m sure “are we going to Abilene?” will still be a question my husband and I will ask each other now and then when we need a reality check, but now, after spending some time there, “yes” won’t be such a bad answer.
Several months ago – back when I thought I’d be retired by now – I happily volunteered to go on a two-week road trip with a dear friend. She used to live in San Diego before moving to Pennsylvania, and now drives west each winter to spend several months seeing friends and avoiding the snow. I thought it would be great fun to join her on her journey back home.
I am fortunate that I was still able to arrange a two-week block of time off work, and lucky that I have a husband who understands the importance of the trip and is OK with me being away for that amount of time.
We planned this trip before the dreaded polar vortexes (vortices?) hit, so I’m now questioning the wisdom of leaving sunny southern California and heading to the east coast. To avoid as much cold weather as possible, we’ll take a mostly southern route before heading north once we reach Alabama. Since I’ve never lived in the snow, I don’t have the proper clothes, nor do I have a clue how to drive in the stuff. I really hope that the worst will be over by the time we head out in a few weeks.
I’m also nervous because I’m an introvert by nature and crave a certain amount of alone time. The thought of being with someone other than my husband, in close quarters, all day, for two weeks is somewhat unsettling. Fortunately, my friend and I share similar interests, and our taste in food, music, books-on-tape, etc. is close enough so I’m fairly certain we’ll be fine.
Although a two-week trip across country could be called leisurely, we won’t make many site-seeing stops. We’ve identified a couple of points of interest that will require longer stays, and plan to see a few friends along the way, but mostly our overnights will be in small towns, strategically spaced to break up the drive into reasonable chunks.
This trip is the type of adventure (albeit with my husband) I am looking forward to the most in my retirement. Without any hard deadlines or schedules, I hope he and I can take off when the desire hits us, and stay away as long as we want. I have no idea how often we will actually do that, but just having the option feels very freeing.
This road trip with my friend will give me a chance to practice being retired. Along with as many warm cloths as I can stuff in my suitcase, I will take my journal and my camera, a commitment to be flexible and open experiences outside of my comfort zone, and, most of all, my sense of adventure.
All too often, we read stories about people who are duped by scammers. Sadly, the victim is often elderly and, tragically, large sums of money – money that they can’t afford to lose – are frequently involved.
As my late father’s physical and mental health started to decline, I worried about him falling for the various come-ons he received in the mail and on the phone. He had a good, analytical mind when he was younger, but I could tell that his aging brain was becoming less and less able to discern fact from fiction. Fortunately, I was able to protect his bank accounts and credit card before anything happened so he and his finances were safe.
Scammers continue to devise more sophisticated and devious ways to separate people from their money, but there are still plenty of victims responding to notices of large lottery wins, promised riches from Nigerian princes, and a variety of phony phishing emails. My innate skepticism will help protect me from falling for these scams now, but I worry that when I am much older, will I still be able to avoid being taken advantage of?
The same critical thinking skills that make me disregard offers that are “too good to be true” lead me to question much of what I read on the Internet and in social media. I can always count on a handful of “friends” posting items on Facebook or forwarding me emails (along with protestations of outrage) with a story sent to them by some equally outraged person. Most don’t pass my “smell test” and, after a quick search on various fact-checking sites, the stories turn out to be just that, stories.
I don’t think these people are stupid or especially gullible but when they read something that fits very neatly into their political or ideological mindset, they tend not to question its authenticity. This is how hate, lies, and rumors are spread; one unquestioned falsehood at a time.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” Mark Twain
We live in a society of people who self-select their news. If one source’s slant doesn’t lean in the right direction, simply choose another that does. We also tend to socialize, and even live in communities, with like-minded people. That way we don’t have to question our beliefs or, God forbid, alter them in any way. I guess this makes us feel smug comfortable in our convictions, but does it make us better citizens? Does listening to only one side of a story before deciding on its merits support our intellectual integrity? I think most would agree that it does not (although we still do it because, really, it’s others who need to open their minds, not us… right?).
Non-critical thinking makes us more vulnerable to scammers. If we trust a source so completely that we never question its accuracy, why would we question the authenticity of an “exclusive offer” from the same source (or one of its advertisers)? Even better if the offer is also couched in language that supports our biases. If we are distrustful of something or someone, are we not more likely to respond to something that reinforces our paranoia suspicion?
Less incendiary, but maybe in some ways worse, are the “innocent” but untrue items that are re-posted virally. If the poster had done some quick research or applied simple logic, they would have realized that the story doesn’t make any sense. In this category are those emails/posts that promise riches/good luck if you continue the chain (and usually include dire warnings if you don’t), and urban legends like entering your ATM PIN backwards will summon help. Although new myths are being created all the time, many have been around for years and are repackaged and posted over and over again.
When we get in the habit of using magical thinking in place of critical thinking, we make ourselves more vulnerable to hoaxes and fraud. Best case, we just irritate our friends and end up looking stupid, but worst case, we open ourselves up to scammers and thieves.
Recent studies have shown that changes in the brain as we age make the elderly more trusting. The negative “gut feelings” a younger person might experience aren’t felt as strongly by an older person. For this reason, we must be alert when caring for an older adult to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and businesses.
Fortunately, there are things we can do as we age so we aren’t as likely to become victims. We can actually practice our critical thinking skills, learn to be more analytical, and train our brains to question when something just doesn’t ring true.
The enemy of scammers and hoaxters is common sense, questioning, and research.