Having a Cool Yule

Wow, here it is December 1, and I haven’t purchased a single Christmas gift. I didn’t leave the Thanksgiving dinner table and head to the mall. I didn’t set my alarm for o-dark-thirty the next morning so I could join the Black Friday throngs standing in line to save a few bucks. And now my Cyber Monday virtual shopping carts are empty.

Many years ago my brothers and I, along with our spouses, decided to stop buying gifts for each other. Every Thanksgiving, we’d each write our name on a slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Then we’d draw a name and that would be the only one of the six of us we bought a gift for. $50 limit. In addition to that gift, my husband and I bought presents for each other, our parents, a niece, a grandniece, and a couple of friends. Pretty simple.

This plan worked well for several years but, after awhile, even the one gift seemed silly. The $50 gift price limit soon became a gift card exchange which didn’t feel very personal… or needed. So, a few years ago, the six of us decided to stop exchanging gifts with each altogether. Now, with my parents’ passing my husband’s and my gift list has dwindled down to just a few people. For the most part, we don’t even exchange gifts with each other. Sometimes we’ll buy each other little things for fun, and we can usually identify an upcoming trip or a household need that becomes our joint “gift” to each other, but usually there’s not much under the Christmas tree… if we even have a Christmas tree.

I'm pretty sure some of these gifts under my family's 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.
I’m pretty sure some of these gifts under my family’s 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.

These decisions have helped to change the holiday season for the better. I don’t experience the stress I used to because now I no longer am focused on buying PERFECT GIFTS. My husband and I can stroll the mall and enjoy the hustle and bustle and the lovely displays, but not get wrapped up in the craziness.

Do I sound like a bah humbug? I’m really not. I love the holiday lights, decorations, music (as long as it doesn’t start before Thanksgiving) and the parties. I don’t love the crass commercialism and the media-driven expectations. I’m also not against Christmas presents; if I happen to think of the perfect gift for someone, I’ll get it. If not, I don’t spend time running around desperately trying to find something. I’ve never been particularly religious but the whole idea of Christmas gifts seems odd to me anyway. Why is the focus on buying things for each other when the “reason for the season” is supposed to be about peace and joy?

In addition to the stress relief, our move away from buying and receiving presents has been beneficial in other ways. At this stage of our lives we are actively working on getting rid of “stuff.” Thanks to thrift stores, eBay, consignment shops, and the landfill, I finally feel like we’re making progress. No gifts means no more stuff. Besides, instead of a friend or loved one spending their time searching for THE PERFECT GIFT for me, I’d much prefer they give me the gift of time spent together, enjoying each other’s company.

Just Another Day in Paradise

I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.
I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.

I have lived in the beach culture all my life. My current home is not far from where I grew up and, even when I went away to college, I have never lived more than a few miles from the ocean. Although I haven’t sunbathed in many years, I’m sure I owe at least a few of my wrinkles—and certainly the scar on my back where they removed a cancerous spot—to the many hours I spent baking in the sun. Even now, when getting a suntan is no longer a major goal in my life—or something I desire to have at all—I still love the sand, the salt water, and – most of all – the relaxed, happy vibe of warm summer breezes and swaying palm trees.

In this spirit, my husband and I spent last Saturday afternoon enjoying all things tiki at Tiki Oasis 2014. There are many tiki-themed events in the US, but the Tiki Oasis is one of the “Big Three.” The other two are the Ohana on the Lake in Lake George, New York, and the Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have only attended the one in San Diego, but I imagine the others are similar. 

Most of the attendees were there for the full 3-day immersion into the tiki culture which includes workshops, music, demonstrations, cocktail parties, and tours of local tiki architecture. We, on the other hand, just went for the one afternoon and enjoyed the free stuff — a great vintage car display, interesting vendor booths, an art show, and, of course, people watching.

Tiki Van 1

Who wouldn't be happy driving this van?
Who wouldn’t be happy driving this van?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many, these events are a great excuse to put on a Hawaiian shirt and sip rum-based drinks from a coconut, but others have embraced the tiki culture completely. I find these hard core “Tikiphiles” (as they refer to themselves) both fascinating and charming. The women wore their hair in elaborate pin curls, 40’s-style make-up, and dressed in vintage Hawaiian frocks (and I’m not talking muumuus; these dresses are gorgeous and form-fitting). The men donned Hawaiian shirts, pork pie hats, and typically sported some type of facial hair. Most of the men and the women had tattoos – lots of them.

Tiki events are part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, and all fun. Just like seeing plastic pink flamingos on someone’s front lawn, the tiki culture makes me smile. The colors are vivid, the music upbeat, and the imagery is positive. Best of all, those who embrace it don’t take themselves too seriously. They are enjoying life and harkening back to a less complicated time (whether or not it was really less complicated is immaterial, that’s how they choose to reflect it).

Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun... in sensible shoes.
Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun… in sensible shoes.

I imagine that a majority of the attendees have regular jobs, and the commitments and stress that go along with them. Attending tiki events allows them to step back momentarily, dress up in colorful clothes, and enjoy the company of others who love the culture as much as they do. On Monday morning, I’m sure it was back to reality for most.

After several hours of wondering around, chatting with a few attendees, and having lunch poolside, it was time to rejoin the real world. As we headed back to our car for the short drive home, we couldn’t help but be in a good mood. With all the turmoil going on in the world, it was kind of nice to “get away” for awhile and enjoy a little island fantasy.

On our way to the parking lot, we passed a car with a window sticker which read simply “Live Aloha.” Those words made me reflect on how I’m so grateful that my husband and I have been able to retire from the work-world and its related time-commitments and stress. Although we don’t have pink flamingos in our front yard or a carved tiki on the patio, we are focused on smiling often, staying healthy, and trying to live aloha every day.

Live Aloha4

Puzzling Together the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucket

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

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

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

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

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

Old Globe

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

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.

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.

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.