So Far, So Good!

I really didn’t know what to expect of the first week my retirement. I had hoped to check several things off my to-do list as well as explore a few activities I thought I’d enjoy, but I also gave myself permission—at least during the initial few weeks—to just kind of see what happened. Ease into it slowly. No pressure.

So much to do...
So much to do…

I hadn’t envisioned that I would jam my little toe into an unmovable object hard enough that it’s been too painful to wear anything but flip-flops. It also never occurred to me that I (who NEVER gets sick) would come down with a cold bad enough that I would have stayed home from work for a couple of days, had I a job to stay home from. Neither ailment is a big deal, but they have impacted my plans enough that I am anxious to be rid of both.

I know there will be many discoveries—both good and bad—along my retirement path, but two that stand out after just over one week are:

The retirees’ mantra, “I’ve never been so busy” is true. I always figured that it was a conspiracy among retired people to say this to their still-working friends just to annoy them. But, it’s a fact! It’s not that I’m running around (actually, hobbling around) all the time – but it’s so easy to fill up the day with… stuff.

Because it’s easy to forget exactly what all that stuff was, I’ve started to write a few lines in a journal before I go to sleep so I will be able to remember the highlights a week, a month, or even years from now. I may never look at the journal entries again, but I have a feeling my future self will want to look back to see what the heck I was doing to fill up my time. Better yet, if I maintain the journal into our retirement journey, it could help me recall the name of a restaurant where we shared an amazing meal, a hotel where our room featured a breath-taking view, or the details of a once-in-a-lifetime experience we were lucky enough to have.

It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many things I want to do; so many projects that I’d like to start or finish. Without the hard deadlines that work provides or the confines of a weekend to accomplish a task, it’s easy to start something then get distracted and move on to something else. I find myself starting something, let’s say, a blog post… then I realize that I need to water the plants… when I’m outside, I notice that our 20-year-old patio furniture needs cleaning… but, why clean it when we really should take advantage of the sales and purchase a new set… hmmm, I wonder if Costco has what we are looking for… I should check online to see… oh, there’s my half-written post… I really should finish that. (Yes, this really happened.)

Several friends have asked me how I am enjoying retirement so far. Although I try to be gentle (they are still working, after all), I have to say that I LOVE IT! I understand that it’s only been a little over a week and I’m in the honeymoon phase, but so far, I’m settling in just fine and anxious to fill my journal with tales of adventures—both big and small.

Now… which plants did I finishing watering before I got distracted?

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.

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“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.

Guerrilla My Dreams

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.

Life’s a Beech

Beech5

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.

Bio Urn
Bio Urn

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.

Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!

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.

Ricky and Lucy4

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.

Ricky and Lucy5

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.

The Last of the “Last Ofs”

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.

Cocoon1

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.

Dropping Ballast

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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.