GratiTuesday: Brick Walls

brick-wall.jpg

Sometimes it takes hitting a brick wall for me to finally make a change that I have been putting off. That final, immovable force which prevents continuing on a comfortable, but unsatisfactory, forward projection. The wall that tells me that I can no longer ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own.

I’ve reached that point. It’s time to change my blog theme.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I had a problem with my theme was four years ago, soon after I began my blog. I didn’t like the small size of my blog’s font but I couldn’t figure out how to change it. So, I didn’t… and I remained frustrated… but I decided to live with it and move on.

I encountered the second challenge when I found myself admiring features and cool widgets on various blogs I follow. When I tried to add the same functions to my pages, I found that many of the options weren’t available to me. Unfortunately, my fear of blowing up my site by making a mistake while changing the theme was greater than my desire to spruce things up.

Then, a few months ago, the title of one of my blog posts, Oaxaca’s Street Markets, suddenly appeared – complete with a link – on my menu bar. When I went into my dashboard to fix it, there was no indication that anything was wrong. I tried to add a new menu item hoping that the unwanted item and link would disappear when I clicked on Save and Update. Nope, it was still there. I began to consider that my problem might be greater than just my lack of website experience.

I finally came face-to-face with a big brick wall – one I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried – when my blog suddenly stopped behaving itself when viewed on a tablet. It was small. It was scrunched. It was unreadable.

That wall finally prompted me to seek help. Because these last two problems spontaneously occurred without my making any changes, I had no idea how to fix them. I know that I’m not exactly a techno-wiz but, as far as I could tell, the logical fixes weren’t fixing anything.

Turns out that I have an “expired theme.” Who knew themes expired?

Within the next week or so, I hope to have a shiny new theme up and running. One that has a larger body font, a few extra features and widgets, a menu bar without a mind of its own, and posts that can be read without a magnifying glass no matter what device is being used.

As I make the transition, I will probably be tweaking things here and there, moving stuff around, and adding features that catch my fancy. If anything goes awry or something looks wonky on your side of the screen, I’d love it if you could give me a heads up. Hopefully everything will go perfectly smooth… right.

I am grateful for the brick wall that smacked me in the head and has prompted me to make a few needed changes. Hitting a brick wall is not very pleasant but, sometimes, that’s just what I need.

Life’s a Beech

This post, with a few tweaks and updates, first appeared on my blog in 2014.

Like many people our age have done, my husband and I drafted our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends, so we wanted to get this done while we are both in good physical and mental health. 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 was serious and time-consuming. There were a lot of details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process was 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. One decision that I had difficulty with was deciding what I want 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 died several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After doing some research, I found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for a while, but I discovered that there is a way I can actually become part of a tree once I am gone.

There are several companies that sell these urns, which contain all the items necessary for the process (“just add ashes!”): Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, Peotrees, are a few that I found. The prices vary, but the concept is pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. 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 nourish 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 tree urns offer a choice of seeds. Beech, maple, and oak are a few of the options listed on one website. 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 tree’s fruit could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or 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, nor will they be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.

Maybe my ashes could 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. I hope they will raise a toast to my memory.

Could you travel full-time?

Map

About twenty years ago, when we were about to embark on a major remodel of our house, my husband asked an interesting question: do we want to continue on our path to spend many thousands of dollars adding a master suite and several hundred square feet of living space, or should we instead spend the money traveling around the world?

We had spent months of searching before we finally found the home we bought. It was in a great neighborhood and had a wonderful view, but it was definitely a fixer-upper. When we purchased the house two years prior, we did so with the intention of tearing most of it down and starting over. When my husband asked his somewhat facetious question, I didn’t hesitate long before answering that I wanted to continue with the construction.

Looking back at that decision, I’m glad we chose that path. I love our house and our neighborhood and I don’t regret spending the last twenty years enjoying our life here, but I thought about my husband’s question recently as I was reading one of the several travel blogs I follow. The decision we made twenty years ago was the right one for us at that time. But, now that we are retired, I wonder if we could make a different choice. Could we lock up our house—or maybe rent it out long-term—and start to travel the world full-time? Is that a lifestyle we could embrace and thrive in?

Michael and Debbie Campbell have been travelling the world since July, 2013. They rented out their home and took off with the intention of being gone for 12 months. Almost three years later, they are still on their journey, mostly staying in Airbnbs. You can read a summary of their adventures in their April 18th Senior Nomads in Europe post.

Tim and Joanne Joseph sold their house in 2013 and have been traveling almost non-stop since then. Their wonderfully engaging blog, A Note from Abroad, (About page) often makes me want to jump on a plane and go.

Lisa Dorenfest is following her dream of circumnavigating the globe on a sailboat. Her journal of the multi-year “sailbatical” she has taken is captivating and her photography is stunning. Currently somewhere near Australia, Lisa will take you along with her One Ocean at a Time (Introduction Page).

I think it takes a certain type of person to make a commitment to living a life of continuous travel. As attractive as it might sound, most of us enjoy the comforts of home too much to be on the road (or seas) full-time. We yearn to see different places and have new experiences but, when we return to the familiar we are refreshed and rejuvenated.

The beauty of retirement is that we can stretch out our travels as much as our comfort and budget allows. My husband and I love to take short trips lasting several days to a week or so. We’ve also taken a few longer trips which have been wonderful, but traveling for three or four weeks at a time is about our limit. After a while, we want to go home and decompress.

But, who knows; one of these days we just may find the perfect house sitters or tenants, and we’ll hand over the house keys for a year or more. The time to do that is now, when we both are healthy and relatively courageous (gulp). At some point it will be too late; we will start to experience aches and pains significant enough to keep us close to home and/or we might feel less sure of our abilities to deal with stressful situations. When that happens, will I be satisfied with the life we chose or will I regret the path not taken?

Searching for balance in retirement

Sometimes it seems like it’s been much less than two years since I was wrapping up my final weeks of employment and looking forward to the day I retire. At other times, it’s as if I’ve been living this leisurely lifestyle for many years and I can hardly remember having full-time work obligations.

I had a lot of plans for my retirement: I wanted to take classes, travel, socialize with friends, complete household projects, and explore my creative side. I also wanted to allow enough leisure time in my non-existent schedule to relax, read books, and daydream.

Mission accomplished… sort of.

Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.
Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.

Since retiring, my husband and I have gone on some amazing trips (and more are planned), I’ve taken advantage of free—and nearly free—educational opportunities, I’ve joined a wonderful book club, we’ve completed multiple house projects (and have more in the works), and I’ve spent time writing and improving my photography skills. Life is good.

But, just recently, I’ve started to struggle with the feeling that I would like to do more, that I want to have more to show for my time. This doesn’t mean that I desire to go back to full-time work, or even that I want to find part-time employment. What I want is more balance in my life.

Besides receiving a regular paycheck and subsidized healthcare insurance, going to work every day provided a lot of intangible benefits. Daily interactions with colleagues wove a social network that helped to make work a pleasurable experience. Because I worked for a large company, my network web included people from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse interests and skills.

I miss that.

I also miss the feeling of working together towards a common goal. We took on projects and supported each other as we met our objectives. In addition, work gave me opportunities to challenge myself and to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I successfully expanded my comfort zone.

I’m not sure where this sense that something is missing will lead me. Exploring volunteer opportunities might be a good start. Perhaps I need to get involved with a cause that I believe in. Maybe some type of part-time employment will supply the diverse community I miss. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three possibilities, or maybe something else.

I fully realize how lucky I am that I actually have a choice about how I spend my time. If I make no changes at all, I have a pretty good life. But if I can find something that allows me to make a positive contribution, I think my retirement could be more purposeful and satisfying. It also might help me re-discover some or all of those missing elements: enjoying an expanded and more diverse social network, being inspired by a vision shared with others, and embracing the opportunity to help others and to challenge myself.

The key will be to find something that also allows me to travel when I want and to enjoy the retirement I envisioned when I said good-bye to full-time employment.

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.

(Over)Thinking Things Through

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

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

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

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

BBQ

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

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

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

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

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