Road Skills

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.

Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)
Two new friends with benefits (they can cook!)

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.

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”  ― Dr. Seuss
“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”
― Dr. Seuss

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.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Yesterday, my husband and I had a lovely day running a handful of errands, enjoying a relaxing lunch at an outdoor café, and spending the afternoon exploring a neighborhood we had never been to before. The weather was so sunny and warm we were able to drive around with our convertible’s top down.

This morning, I got out into our yard early before the bees showed up, to pick tomatoes from a “volunteer” vine that probably arose from the seeds of a discarded fruit from our summer crop.

photo

We don’t live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently their warm season. We live in Southern California, where we are in the midst of the worst drought in a century. Warnings of possible wildfires, dangers that we are used to hearing about in September and October, are filling the local newspapers and the airwaves. The governor has just declared a drought emergency and we fully expect that water-use restrictions will soon follow.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we replaced our thirsty front lawn with drought-tolerant plants. Most of our backyard is either covered in hardscape or planted with bushes and succulents, chosen for their ability to withstand long periods with little water. We realize that, although our home is near the coast, we live in a Mediterranean climate and our landscaping should reflect that. We don’t know what the next few months hold for us rain-wise, but if it continues to be dry, our plants will probably survive, and maybe even thrive.

Sticks of Fire

I love these August-in-January temperatures, but I also know that every season brings with it possibilities and challenges, both abundance and retreat, and each must build on the other for life to flourish and grow. The same dry weather day after day isn’t good for plants, animals, or people. It is dull, it is boring, and it can be dangerous.

As I was picking tomatoes this morning, my thoughts turned (as they do more-and-more these days) to my upcoming retirement. I wondered, as much as I enjoy working in the garden, would I be happy doing it every day? Would I be happy doing anything all the time? Although I am looking forward to having unstructured hours and limitless ways to fill them, I know that too much free time can turn out to be too much of a good thing.

Working five days a week and having only two days on the weekends to get things done, I often find that, come Sunday night, I’ve checked off only a few things on my to-do list, and I didn’t devote much time, if any, to pure enjoyment. After I retire, “enjoyment” will be tops on my to-do list, but that doesn’t mean that I want my days to be exclusively warm and sunny. I look forward to challenging myself by taking classes and learning new skills, obligating some of my time with volunteer work, and creating a certain amount of structure so that I can maintain my physical, mental, and emotional well-being for as many years as possible.

Just as we landscaped our yard in preparation for expected periods of drought and to better reflect the climate we live in, I am laying the groundwork for my retirement. I am setting up my financial life for when paychecks no longer regularly re-fill the coffers, and my personal life to be more self-directed and open to exploration.

Like our current endless summer, a retirement devoted exclusively to relaxation and leisure will soon grow dull, boring, and quite possibly dangerous to health and well-being. It will be important that I search out variety, welcome change, and strive embrace each season for its diversity and its possibilities.

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy” – William Blake

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.

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.

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”?