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.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

My husband and I decided to take a leisurely route on our drive home from Sacramento a few weeks ago. On our trip north, we took Highway 5, which runs up the middle of the state – it’s the best choice for getting from here to there in a single day, but there’s not much to see along the way. For our return trip, we opted to take Highway 1, which has to be one of the most beautiful highways in the country, if not the world.

I’ve traveled on this road many times; on family vacations, riding along with my parents and older brother when they delivered him to the University of California, Santa Cruz where he went to college, and then again when I attended UCSC, and a handful other trips over the years. Each time, I have been transfixed by the breathtaking beauty along California’s rugged coastline. As I got older and became more aware of these things, I marveled at the level of planning, engineering, and construction expertise that must have gone into creating this ribbon of asphalt that hugs the coastline.

This time, because we began our journey in Sacramento, we had to negotiate a number of freeways before we were able to connect up with Highway 1 in the city of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, our journey took us south through Capitola, Castroville (the “artichoke capital of the world”!), Monterey, and Carmel, before we began the approximately 90 miles of highway that winds along the coastal area known as Big Sur.

It is difficult to capture in words how stunning the scenery is along this route. To the north, the highway passes through a lush pine forest, then, as it winds south, the road turns toward the coast, offering views of the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean meeting a rocky shore that rises abruptly to become the Santa Lucia mountain range. Because we were traveling south, our lane was on the outside, close to the edge of the cliffs. Great for taking in the views, but a bit harrowing as we wended our way along the curvy road. Fortunately, there are many turnouts provided along the way so travelers can stop for a closer look and to take pictures.

Up until the 1930s, this part of California’s coastline was relatively inaccessible. In 1921, state and federal funds were appropriated for the ambitious project of constructing a road from Carmel to San Simeon. San Quentin Prison provided much of the unskilled labor, paying the prisoners a whopping 35 cents a day, and the promise of reduced sentences. Because of the area’s topography, 33 bridges had to be constructed, including the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge

After 18 years of construction, aided by New Deal funds during the Great Depression, the paved two-lane road was completed and opened in June of 1937. The road was initially called the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, but was better known as the Roosevelt Highway, honoring the current President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, it was redesignated as Highway 1, and, in 1965, became the first State Scenic Highway.

Several areas along the route are prone to landslides and the road has to be shut down from time-to-time to clear the path. Fortunately, I have never experienced one of these slides in progress – I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to have rocks and boulders suddenly rain down on my car and the road in front of me.

One of many landslides at Pitkin's Curve
One of many landslides at Pitkins Curve

In one area where a large number of landslides have occurred, the California Department of Transportation is completing an ambitious project designed to protect both travelers and the fragile coastline. At Pitkins Curve, they have realigned the road by constructing a bridge that juts out from the side of the cliffs, thereby allowing future landslides to pass under the bridge and not fall onto the road. They are also building a “rock shed,” which is I can only describe as an exterior tunnel. The theory is that rocks and boulders will fall onto the roof of the shed, rather than on the cars and cyclists on the road.

Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Entering the amazing rock shed
Entering the amazing rock shed

The original construction of the highway (even with the poorly paid convict laborers) was extremely expensive and could have only been done with tax dollars. I am so grateful that, back in the early part of last century, the federal government and the citizens of California wisely saw the value of such an ambitious project.

I can’t say that I enjoy paying taxes, and I certainly disagree with a lot of things my tax dollars fund. I also understand that there is a lot of waste and a certain amount of fraud in the system. It’s not perfect, but I do know that it takes a lot of money to keep all of the moving parts of this great country operating smoothly. When I travel on roads built long ago because the government and voters at that time thought it was important to dream big and create a legacy for future generations, I realize that the decisions we make today will reflect the values we hold.

In our current climate of tax resistance and reduction in government spending regardless of the societal cost, I wonder if we would have the vision and commitment to the common good to fund a project like Highway 1 today.

Mapping our lives

Several hours and a few hundred miles away from home, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my beloved road atlas with me on our trip to northern California. My husband and I have driven these freeways many times before, and it’s a pretty straight shot, so getting lost was not a worry. Both of us have smart phones, so both Google Maps and the ability to call for help and directions were both readily available. Still, I wanted a map.

I like being able to plot our progress; I want to see what little towns are up ahead, and, during the especially boring parts of the journey, to see how much further we have to go before something more interesting will appear. What’s the name of that lake over to the left? Which turnoff did we take last time when we visited that great little winery? Have we passed from Kern County to Kings County yet? Without a paper map, I am left with a blue dot moving through the state on my iPhone screen. Empty and soulless.

I inherited my love of paper maps from my father. He kept a large stack of them on his bookshelf – many were of often-visited locals, some he picked up on his and my mother’s journeys around the country and the world. He found it difficult, if not impossible, to throw any of them away – even when he picked up newer versions of ones he already had. This made it harder when I was clearing out his home for sale after his death. I discovered that I not only had inherited his love of maps, but also his reluctance to throw them away. Each was a souvenir of a trip taken and a physical memory keeper of his and my mother’s journey together.

The California road atlas I had inadvertently left home last week was one that belonged to my father. It is dated 1986 and contains notes he had written on many of the pages. Not all of them are trip-related; on the detail street maps showing the city of Los Angeles, he made notes indicating where the 1992 L.A. riots were occurring. I can picture him sitting at his home in San Diego, watching the news on television, the map book opened to the pages showing the parts of L.A. that were on fire.

map

As my father’s mind slowly slipped into the fog of dementia, and his earlier memories were clearer to him then recent ones, I discovered that he had adopted a ritual using the local newspaper’s daily US weather map. Every day, he mapped his journey – across the country, and then overseas – that he took as a young recruit during the Second World War. Every day, he plotted his movements, from Cincinnati, through Denver, to California (where he met my mother), to Las Vegas (where they married three months later), to New York. Then he drew an arrow to the right towards Europe.

I don’t know much about his experiences during the war, but I do know that he was one of the lucky ones. He avoided the worst of combat and came home physically and, I believe, mentally unscathed. What he plotted every day on the newspaper map were memories of a great adventure. I wish I had kept one of those sweet, precious maps.
It’s probably time to buy a new California road atlas (assuming they still make them). I know that many roads have been added to the state since 1986 and a newer one would be more useful.

I also know that I will not throw away the old one that belonged to my father.

More than a paycheck

When my husband retired a little over a year ago, he quickly realized that many of the things he took for granted over the 40+ years he was in the corporate world were no longer easily available to him. You might think this realization could probably be placed in the “No Duh” file, but I can imagine, until one actually makes the jump from working full-time one day to not working at all the next, it’s impossible to anticipate all of the changes to come.

In addition to the easy social network that is left behind (several post topics in itself), problem-solving help, IT assistance, data, and other useful information that used to be a stroll to another cubicle or simple phone call away, are no longer as accessible. Because he was employed by a pretty large corporation (where I continue to work), he probably had more resources than many who work in smaller companies – surely more than those who are self-employed. But, I imagine that many new retirees from companies of just about any size not only miss their work friends but also the perks of shared resources.

One of the largest gaps in our knowledge base involves things technological. We own three computers, two smart phones, and one tablet, and, as long as things are working smoothly, we are fine. As soon as we experience a glitch, we are lost (for instance, just recently, the “back” button on my desktop mysteriously stopped working for the most part and I have no idea how to fix it). I am savvy enough to know that I can often find the answer to my latest puzzlement by Googling my problem in the form of a question. Unfortunately, just as often, rather than the simple answer I was hoping for, I find that my limited technological knowledge doesn’t include what is necessary to understand the solution.

As long as I continue to work, I’ll have fairly easy access to people who can help solve whatever IT problem we throw at them. When I join my husband in retirement, we will either need to put the Geek Squad on permanent retainer, or find a bright 15-year-old in the neighborhood that we can bribe with treats in exchange for help.

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.

Picking a Date

Unlike many people, I don’t have what I’d call a precipitating event that will set my retirement date in stone; I’m not reaching a magical age, my health is great (thank goodness), my job is as secure as any these days. I am lucky enough to be in the position of choosing to retire, and to retire relatively young. The only problem with this flexibility is that the date is fungible. Setting a timeline that is so far in the future doesn’t feel real. Earlier this year, I identified September as the month. September and October are often two of the nicest months weather-wise where I live. Not too hot, not yet cold and most of the tourists are gone. Yes, September is it!

So now, it’s the second week of September and I’m not only still working, I plan on working through December. I don’t remember actually changing my mind about leaving in September, but, as someone once said, “sometimes not to decide is to decide.” I just let enough time slip by so I could no longer give my work the several months notice I want to, and I didn’t do what I needed to do to mentally prepare for such a big change.

I have now identified the end of January as “the date.” Why? Several reasons come to mind. 1) January is my birth month and I can’t think of a better present to give myself; 2) My husband is making noises about wanting to travel (yay!) and I want to go with him; 3) I just found out that a co-worker is pregnant and due in March. When she went out on maternity leave with her first child, my “dream” job became more like a nightmare. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both of our jobs so I started to stress out and to dread coming in every day. This had never happened to me before in this position and I vowed at the time never to experience it again.

The joy of a new baby has become a huge precipitating event that has pushed me into making a decision… just what I needed! I will be retired by January 31, 2014; well before the baby arrives so I can train my replacement and slip away without guilt.

There, it’s in writing and you are my witness.

What happened in your life to help transition you from the career world to retirement? If you aren’t retired yet, what is going to help you decide when to “pull the cord”?