Do Storks Really Bring Babies?

The “country-ish” place where we moved when I retired is a resort community for water fowl- herons, egrets, storks, and the like. 

 I was never really a bird person.  In fact, at the zoo, I have been heard to remark “birds aren’t real animals.”  For all the bird lovers out there, please do not take offense.  I am sure birds are perfectly lovely creatures.  They are, doubtlessly, imperative to the ecosystem.  Just personally, I could never get too revved up about them.  Maybe it is because my mother is afraid of birds, having been traumatized by an avian-related incident as a child.  Maybe it is because my ex-husband insisted upon bringing a loud, dirty, irritable canure parrot (appropriately named Manure), into our tiny living space.  For whatever reason, birds just never held the same appeal to me as furry mammals (to clarify, furry mammals like lions and tigers and bears- not furry mammals like mice and rats and possums). 

When we moved here, though, I have to say that seeing Sandhill cranes roam free around the community was pretty high on the “cool factor.”  There was one pair that we saw frequently when we took afternoon walks.  At least, I think it was the same pair.  Sandhill cranes all sorta look alike.  The two in question seemed to hang out around the same street corner every day.  They were always together.  They claimed their places in the universe with assertive tranquility.  They were not nasty when we approached them on our walks, but did not cede their ground to us either.  We walked around them and everyone was happy.

One day, though, we noted that one of the cranes was missing from their normal territory on the street corner.  It did not reappear over the next couple of weeks.  I was unaccountably worried about those birds.  What had happened to the other crane?  Was it sick?  Did it die?  Did they have a fight and break up?  Was one crane cheating on the other?  Was the remaining crane lonely?  Was it sad?  It just really bothered me that the pair seemed to have been separated.  My concern was pretty irrational, given the relative insignificance of two Sandhill cranes in my life, but there I was.  Anxiety-riddled over the disappearance of a bird. 

The other day, I was driving by my crane friends’ usual stomping grounds. I would say I screeched to a halt, except that you can’t really screech when you are driving at the community’s maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour.  Both cranes were back.  And, with them, was the reason that the pair had not appeared together in some time.  A little baby Sandhill crane, cute as it could be.  It looked like a baby duckling strapped to the top of two pencils.  Apparently, spring is when a young crane’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 I can sleep again.

So, do storks really bring babies?  Maybe, but Sandhill cranes certainly do!

So what are your thoughts?    Spring brings change to the whole world!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂

I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

Easter reminds me that my race is not yet run.

 When I started working, I did not select my career with my Christianity in mind. To be honest, I’m not sure I selected it at all. I had just finished college with a fresh out of the oven degree in English. I was working at my minimum wage college job. I had a brand new husband, who was a full time graduate student.  He needed brand new food every brand new day. When the chance for federal employment was offered, I took the job for purely temporal reasons.

That doesn’t mean that, for the 33 plus years I worked, I left my faith at the door. While my job description wasn’t particularly missionary, I believed that God expected me to live a mission. I spent my career purposely, consciously, and genuinely trying to make each decision from a place of goodness and to be a light in the world to the people I encountered. The fuel for that light was Jesus. I often fell short. I was not always a good example or a beacon of Christ’s light. I simply trusted that, when I did succeed in my mission through the wisdom and grace God granted me, the Lord would use that work to let others see Him and His love.

 When I retired, I was tired and worn down in my very soul. I looked forward to my retirement as a period of rest and relaxation, my years of work being done. I did rest and it has taken a very long time for my spirit to relax. Now, I realize my work is not done. My workplace is different and the conditions are unfamiliar, but I am sure God still has a mission for me.

 I believe I am called, like St. Therese of Lisieux, to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love. There is still some life left for me to fill, using God’s grace, with extraordinary love.

 I am writing about reinventing myself in retirement. This Easter season, I have been journeying towards a spiritual reinvention, or, at least, a spiritual reinvigoration. I’ve been participating in a Best Lent Ever program.  It is a series of daily email video reflections. It is offered through www.dynamiccatholic.com.  You might want to check it out. Even non Catholics might be interested.  Really, anyone with a spiritual orientation that includes Jesus, even tangentially, might find it useful.

 In working on my spiritual reinvention this Lent, www.dynamiccatholic has helped me remember some valuable lessons.

 When I give in to shyness and avoid people, I put my Jesus light under a bushel and miss potential opportunities to provide comfort and extraordinary love.

When I get impatient and rushed, I miss the opportunity to be absolutely present in the moment, to cherish the joy that God gives that moment.

When my heart flashes with irritation and anger, I miss the opportunity to gain understanding and closeness. 

 Moving forward, I know that I will forget these lessons and will fall short. I also know that God has more lessons for me.  I will try to keep an open heart and be available to His teaching, as I strive to be a carrier of extraordinary love.

The real lesson of Easter, though, is that, no matter how many times I fail, I am forgiven. Jesus saw to that.

Happy Resurrection!  I know that not everyone believes as I do, but Easter seems like a great time to remind ourselves that reinvention can be sacred as well as secular.

What do you think?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a happy and blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂

Domestic Deity

I really rock at cleaning floors.

 To understand the full impact of this statement, you need to understand that I grew up in a home where cleaning house meant company was coming.  My mother has many, many wonderful traits, but she was a homemaker and not a housekeeper. My childhood memory of “home” is warm and loving and fun, but not clean, neat, or tidy.  I don’t think anyone would ever describe my mom as a “domestic goddess.”

 It wasn’t that we were too lazy to clean house.  It was just that there were way too many more interesting things to do than dust, wash, polish, or sweep anything that needed dusting, washing, polishing, or sweeping. We didn’t live in squalor or anything, but having clean floors wasn’t ever a dream that seemed worth pursuing.  Dog hair tended to be part of the décor.  If there were too many dirty dishes in the sink, we could always use the oven to whisk them out of sight.   We also were the kind of people who formed sentimental attachments to just about everything we touched, so there was always souvenirs of vacations, questionably adorable figurines, crumbling old furniture, children’s art projects, clothes worn for momentous occasions (like my first day of second grade or something), etc. hanging around creating clutter and dust bunnies. 

My mother was a working mother before it was fashionable. Before that, she volunteered with the Parent Teacher Association for more hours a week than most people spend at a real job.   While I think she enjoyed working outside the home, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of her motivation for getting a job was to have a socially acceptable excuse to not do something as boring as housework. 

 When I began living on my own, I intended to replicate the housekeeping habits of the women I saw on reruns of 1950s television shows.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that I was failing miserably.  I either missed the housekeeping gene or just never learned how to do housework in a way that would efficiently and effectively result in a clean, tidy house.  Who knows if it was nature or nurture, but I began storing dirty dishes in the oven within an embarrassingly short time.  I spent most of my adult life trying to do better, with almost no success.

 When I retired and was getting ready to move, I was a little worried.  I was going from a tiny one-bedroom, one-bathroom 600 square foot condominium to a 1500 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house.  Since I was never very successful in keeping 600 square feet clean, how would I cope with so much more space?

 As it turns out, the answer is pretty darn well.  I have found that having the extra space is actually helpful.  There are more places to put things.  Our clothes actually fit in the closets and bureaus and don’t end up on the floor.  The garage can not only house two cars, but has shelving for items such as Christmas decorations.   Being retired also means that taking half an hour to clean a bathroom or an hour to dust isn’t anywhere near as onerous as when I was working for a living and really resented housework for eating up my few moments of unscheduled time. 

 And the floors.  In my little condo, I had carpet through most of the rooms.   There is very little satisfaction in vacuuming carpeting.  Pretty much, the floors look the same after you vacuum as they did before.  You never really know if the carpets are clean.  My new home has hardwood in most of the rooms.  When we first moved in, I was a little intimidated by those floors and put off doing anything other than sweeping them.  Finally, I decided to just throw caution to the wind and try to do a deeper cleaning.  I swept, dust-mopped, applied hardwood floor cleaner, and, ultimately, hardwood floor restorer and polisher.  Those floors absolutely glowed when I was done.  I felt soooo accomplished.  I was taking pictures of the newly cleaned floors and sending them to everyone who knew me.  I faced my fear of housework and prevailed. 

 The really big lesson in my journey to becoming a domestic goddess is something I learned in the workplace years ago.  Quality is “fit for use.”  In other words, if my home is reasonably sanitary and the air is breathable and the occupants feel comfy and happy, whatever level of housework that has been done is quality.   I am the queen of my own domesticity and, if I can look out over my realm and be happy, that is the triumph.

 Maybe my mother was a domestic goddess after all.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear your perspective.  Please leave a comment and share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a terrific day!

Terri 🙂

Should Shoulder Rolls Be Audible?

One of my goals in retirement was to get more exercise.  Despite the fact that I am a middle aged, mostly sedentary, overweight diabetic, whose preferred form of exercise is pushing buttons on the TV remote control, I decided that retirement was going to be my motivation to become the picture of health- eating right, moving my body, soaking in the sunshine, and fairly glowing with righteous wholesomeness.  Well, not so much.  Still, I thought it was time to exercise more than just my imagination. 

I joined a water aerobics class when I moved to my new home in the sticks.  For some bizarre reason, I decided to begin in January.  The morning temperature when I scurried from the car to the pool was about 45 degrees.  The pool is indoors and heated (I’m not completely crackers), but there was still the commute from car to pool and pool to car with which to contend.  The commute from the pool to the car was infinitely more difficult because, even though the temperature was an hour warmer, I was an hour wetter. The class consisted of about 6 die-hards that participated as long as the temperature was over 40 degrees at the time the class began.  There is one attendee, who I have dubbed “The Woman Who Never Shuts Up,” who barely moves any part of her body except her mouth during the hour long class.  Two or three other attendees sway a little bit, but are obviously there to listen with rapt attention to every story and pearl of wisdom she spews forth while the instructor soldiers on, trying to make her directions heard over the din.  

For a little while, I sort of alternated between the water aerobics and a “dry land” walking aerobics class the community also offered.  In the minds of most sane people, I’m sure walking around a climate controlled auditorium to music seems the more reasonable option when the temperature is 45 degrees.  However, one main factor settled me finally on the water aerobics class.  You don’t sweat in the water.

The class is offered three times a week.  I average once a week, despite my best intentions.  Still, as time marches on and the class expands (now that the temperature has warmed up, there are about 15-20 attendees), I can feel some results.  The Woman Who Never Shuts Up still, well, never shuts up. It just doesn’t bother me as much.    I understand now that the time goes quicker when people chat during the class.  Also, now that there are more people actually exercising, I have more people to watch to learn the movements.  I think I’m probably exercising more efficiently and flaying about less.  I do feel a modicum of strength and endurance that I haven’t felt for some time.  I feel muscles stretching and expanding as I do the exercises.  When I finish a session, I feel more relaxed and healthy. 

This is not to say that I am the well-oiled machine I visualized.  There is one stretching exercise that involves bending a knee back behind me and holding my ankle with my hand to keep my foot firmly against my butt.  This seems physiologically impossible for me.  I am pretty sure I am not meant to grow a bigger butt to reach the foot and I think my days of growing longer legs to reach my butt are- you should excuse the expression- behind me.

 Then there is the series of “bottle exercises.”  The idea is to use an empty half-gallon milk bottle in each hand and do some exercises while floating on the water.  I have a sneaking suspicion that, if one has any level of firmness in the core muscles, one will remain in pretty much the same location while doing these “bottle exercises.”  After maneuvering around the whole pool numerous times while attempting to do the movements without drowning, I capitulated and started hanging on to the side of the pool behind me while doing the exercises.

And then there are the shoulder rolls.  Among the stretches we do at the beginning and end of class are shoulder rolls.  As I roll my shoulders in little circles to the front and to the back, I am first struck by how good it feels.  Then, to my horror, I realize I CAN HEAR THEM!  Click, click, click.  I am pretty certain you aren’t supposed to be able to hear your muscles move.  When did this happen?  Maybe it is Morse code for something.  Maybe something like…. This is what happens when your preferred form of exercise for 30 some years is pushing buttons on the TV remote control!

So what do you think?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Terri 🙂

Shangri-la-dee-da

Realtors never show you the local Walmarts.

When I was searching for a house in 2012, the real estate agent took us along a picturesque road that actually drove over a lake.  She avoided the main commercial drag through town. She pointed out the quaint fairy tale German bakery in the woods. She didn’t mention the dozens of boarded up failed restaurants in town.  She steered us to the lush green spaces that lined the residential roads. She did not tarry over the broken expanses of cracked asphalt on the aging strip malls.  She proudly identified the huge modern hospital.  She spent no time at all on the rather suspect-looking corner “pharmacies.” All in all, the real estate agent presented us with a vision of charming Smalltown, USA.

One of our main reasons for moving from our old state was to escape a declining neighborhood. Now that we have actually moved to this Shangri-la-dee-da, I’m not certain that we have taken that much of a step up.

Our new neighbors quickly identified one of the three Walmarts in easy driving distance (which probably tells you something right there), as “the bad Walmart.” Apparently, people who wish to avoid everyday low prices on muggings and carjackings steer clear of this one.

I can’t say that I love the town. I’m not saying for sure, but Shangri-la-dee-da may just be the thrift store capital of the world.  Oh, sure, they have cute little names with pretentions of charm, like Gift Shoppe and Treasure Trove. They still sell other people’s junk.  We have our share of homeless people and seedy motels. There are many empty storefronts in tired old strip malls that seem to actually be decaying before the very eye.  It is also pretty common to see signs wistfully announcing “closed temporarily for refurbishment” on obviously abandoned restaurants.    We have an extra collection at church periodically to pay for the off-duty sheriff deputies who guard the parking lot while we worship.  Websites that report crime statistics advise that the crime rate in the town of Shangri-la-dee-da is pretty high for a city of its size (note to self: if I ever get a notion to move again, check the crime statistics BEFORE purchasing a house instead of after).

About fifteen years ago, a developer created a mega senior citizen community about ten miles from my town. It spans over parts of three different cities in three different counties. The community includes nearly every kind of housing, service, dining, and entertainment option known to man. Everything in the community is brand spanking new, shiny, and clean. Some of the shopertainment areas are even themed. And almost everything in the community is accessible by golf cart. It is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. All the cool senior citizens live there.   I believe the growth of this Disney World for oldsters put something of a damper on the vitality of other towns in the area, including my new town of Shangri-la-dee-da. In addition, there was a freakishly bad hurricane season about ten years ago. I don’t think businesses had a chance to bounce back from that before the economic collapse in 2007.

So, in general, Shangri-la-dee-da feels sort of fragile and shell-shocked. I’m afraid I can’t find that vision of Smalltown, USA that I had in 2012 when I bought the house.

On the other hand, the crime statistics also report that my neighborhood is the safest in the city and is known for peace and quiet. We don’t really live right in the midst of Shangri-la-dee-da.  We actually live kind of out in the country, just barely within the town. In fact, if you sneezed in my community, someone right outside the city limits might yell gesundheit. I love my little house and I love the development where I live.  Driving into the development, you pass through a natural arched canopy of huge heritage trees.  Those trees absolutely drip with streaming Spanish moss, like tinsel on Christmas trees decorated by enthusiastic, ham-handed toddlers. It looks like the entryway to Twelve Oaks in Gone With the Wind.  The planned landscaping is lovely and serene, but there is space for God’s landscaping as well.   There are conservation zones throughout the community, filled with wild foliage and waterways. Herons and egrets nestle on the shores. Sandhill cranes yodel to each other. The neighbors are wonderful.  People look out for each other.  People walk and ride bikes and enjoy the fresh air.  We are about a mile away from grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations that seem safe and clean. Perhaps I should focus my search for Smalltown, USA on that area rather than trying to paint a city of 14,000 with the same brush.  That focus can widen in time.  I am finding, as time goes by, that places that initially seemed a bit scary to me now feel a lot more comfortable.

But that realization is true of a lot more than just geography. Living through transition is showing me that the unfamiliar can take on a somewhat sinister quality simply because it is unfamiliar, but that sense diminishes with time until what once seemed scary seems second nature.

So what do you think?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Terri 🙂

Be Careful What You Wish For

One of my dreams about retirement was that I would never again have to deal with anyone with whom I didn’t want to deal. This was a comforting thought all those years when I was working trying to appease unhappy customers, motivate recalcitrant employees, and calm agitated executives. 

Unfortunately, the reality is significantly different from my dreams.  Since retiring and moving, I have had to deal with multiple people with whom I would rather not deal.  Here is a partial list of them:

The junk guy I hired to haul away the leftover boxes from moving

The electric company guy

The gas company guy

The cable guy

The internet guy

The tree trimmer guy

The first sod guy

The second sod guy (once the first guy’s sod died rather immediately and spectacularly)

The lawn treatment guy

The electrician guy

The second electrician guy (after the first electrician guy inherited a bunch of money and called in rich before completing my job)

The sprinkler guy

The first handyman guy who replaced the large steps at my mother’s mobile home with tiny little steps she could manage

The second handyman guy I hired to take away the rubble left by said first handyman guy who replaced the mobile home stairs

The home warranty guy

The air conditioner guy

And the list goes on.

 

It isn’t that any of these are bad people.  In fact, most of them are very nice.  Or at least, they say “yes ma’am” a lot which is not, I realize, strictly speaking, the same thing.  Still, I would rather people say “yes ma’am” and at least appear sympathetic than snarl in my face.  Also, I did genuinely like most of these folks. The problem is that I’d rather not spend my time, money, and energy fixing the problems these people represent.

 

Also, these vendors in this new community don’t exactly have a sense of urgency in responding to their customers’ requests (or at least this customer’s requests). They are also pretty optimistic, which is a euphemism for “living in a fantasy world,” when they tell you how long it will take to complete jobs.  I think making an appointment to show up at any given time is always contingent upon how the fishing is that day.

 

Another of my dreams of retirement was moving to a place where the pace of life was a bit slower and I didn’t have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That dream has come true.  It is nice not doing everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  The thing is- no one else does, either. 

Now it’s your turn!  What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Terri 🙂

 

Moving Day

About three years before I planned to retire from my job in the southwest part of the country, I purchased a house in the southeast part of the country.

 To fully grasp the significance of that statement, you probably need to know something about my general disposition.  I am probably the most risk averse person on the face of the planet.  I took an extremely responsible federal job in 1981 that paid the paltry sum of $10,900 per year solely because I figured I would never have to worry about getting laid off or eating cat food when I was old.  Any extra money I ever had went into a plain old savings account.  I own one share of stock, in the Disney Corporation, not because it was financially sound, but because I thought the ornamentation on the stock certificate was appealing.  When employees all over the federal government were converting their old, tired defined benefit retirement plans to more aggressive investment plans, I stuck with the original plan.  The last time I moved anywhere was in 1991 when I purchased a tiny condominium located less than five miles from the rental property where I was living at the time.  I never turned that condo over for a detached home when the real estate boomed or busted. 

 This fiscal conservatism served me well.  Through inflation, gradual progression and promotion, and, frankly, simple longevity, I ended my career making about 17 times the annual salary I made when I started.  The savings accounts, while not resulting in huge wealth, are liquid and secure.  The tiny little condo ultimately increased in value by about $80,000 in the time I owned it.  And the Tinker Bell graphic on the Disney stock certificate graces the wall in my new home very nicely.  As to the tired old defined benefit plan, it enabled me to retire right on schedule.  Many of the people who changed plans to take advantage of the nineties stock bubble are postponing their retirement now because the bubble burst.

All this goes to show that purchasing a house 3000 miles away to rent out while I was awaiting my retirement was completely out of character for me.  However, real estate prices and interest rates were way down and I happened upon a real estate agent in the new location whose main line of business was managing rental properties.  She also had a history of living near our home in the old location.  If I was ever going to take a chance, this seemed to be a good one to take.   Since I had saved a nice chunk of change to put down on the house as a result of “practicing” paying another mortgage, I was confident that I could afford the house even if I did not get tenants.  I wasn’t thrilled to have the house sitting vacant, so I did have a few anxious months until the property manager found tenants.  After that point, everything was easy.  The rent, minus the property management fees, went into an account every month and the mortgage payment magically deducted itself from the same account every month, as did the HOA fees.  Once in a great while, I wrote a check for some insurance or some minor repairs.  I even had positive cash flow.  The only pain was doing my income tax return to show the rental income and expenses.

 In fact, things went along so swimmingly, I  sort of forgot that, one day, I would be turning my life upside down, moving 3000 miles from my little one bedroom condo in the west, and taking up residence in that rental property. 

 The neighborhood where Max, my longtime boyfriend and POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters), and I were living in my tiny little condo had been declining over the past several years.  The real estate bubble burst rather messily, leaving quite the aftermath in our quiet little community. Many of the owners, wanting to move on to detached houses but unable to sell their condos for what they thought appropriate, rented their small units.  They were not too particular about who paid the rent, as long as someone did.  Noise, crime, and general shadiness increased.   The police visited as frequently as the UPS truck.  Sometimes, we were the ones inviting them to stop by, when the neighbors’ “disagreements” seemed to cross the line to “potentially dangerous domestic disputes.”  People also often hosted parties on their patios, during which the entertainment seemed to involve the guests regaling each other with tales of their various criminal activities. Since drunkenness doesn’t exactly come with a volume control, we heard it all… at any hour of the day or night.  The people below us, who seemed to be away from home at least 13-14 hours a day, had two yappy yorkies.  The people insisted the yorkies did not bark, or, if they did, they barked no more than average dogs.  Technically, they might have been right.  It wasn’t so much barking as ear-piercing screeching that went on for literally hours some days.  However, in my mind, the real issue was HOW WOULD THEY HAVE KNOWN IF THEIR DOGS WERE BARKING, SINCE THEY WERE NEVER HOME?!

In short, the neighborhood transformed.  It changed from a quiet community of young married couples and older retired people into something resembling a compound of frat houses.  During that iteration, we tried to ignore the irritants, but ignoring things became more difficult when Max retired and was exposed to the issues all day long.  Ultimately, the transformation took a more sinister turn and the frat house occupants started talking about guns and drugs and beating each other to a pulp.

 With all this being said, one would think I would have been anxious to go.  Max certainly was.  In the year before my retirement, he kept counting down the days until we could move.  He researched television cable and satellite companies near the new home.  He studied possible internet companies.  He made decisions about these items like A YEAR before the planned move.    He made frequent suggestions that maybe it was time to check out realtors, contract moving companies, and put the condo on the market.  I really wasn’t ready.  The condo still felt like it was home to me. I didn’t feel any need to begin the moving process months and months before it was actually going to happen. Plus, remember that my rental property in the southeast was doing just fine and I had kind of forgotten that I was one day actually going to live there. 

Still, I agreed that it wouldn’t hurt anything for Max to begin working on the moving issues, which he did with great aplomb.  Finally, I yielded to pressure and interviewed a couple of realtors… six months before our expected move date. I agreed to put the condo on the market because the realtors all said it was a good idea to have the house for sale during the summer, but I didn’t believe it would actually sell any time soon because I couldn’t see anyone buying the condo and waiting for six months to occupy.  I had no intention of vacating the premises before our ultimate move across the country.

Silly me.  The condo actually sold within a week of listing.  The buyer was purchasing the condo with an occupant mortgage but said he was fine with waiting until December to move in.  It soon became clear that he had no intention of ever residing there.  He was buying it to rent and was perfectly happy to have built-in tenants for six months.  So, I would be paying rent on my own house for months before moving!  Okay, I know that it was no longer my house after I received the very healthy purchase price from the escrow.  That transaction not only paid off the remaining mortgage on the condo, but also allowed me to pay off the mortgage on the house on the other side of the country.  A rational person could not argue that the condo was “mine” any longer.  It still felt very, very odd to write that rent check every month… and that probably also helped me let go of the “home” place the condo had in my heart.

There were other factors in the last several months in the condo that helped ease the blow of actually leaving.  Because we had packed away much of my “stuff” when we put the condo on the market, most of my personal thumbprint was buried in storage and a safety deposit box.  For several months, when I looked around the condo, I no longer saw my history.  Those four walls became a place to sleep, watch TV, and make millions of arrangements for the big move.  That space was no longer where my life happened.  In the last few weeks, there were so many things happening, between my retirement celebration and the impending move, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would be like to be gone.  In short, the emphasis of our lives was on the process of leaving, not the result.

Still, when the day actually came for us to begin our great adventure and the movers finally removed everything left in the condo, it wasn’t easy.  Max and I stood in the empty condo and I looked around a last time.  I remembered how it felt when I first moved in, some 23 years before.  I was so proud and so happy and so excited.  I bought the condo all by myself and I pleased only myself.  When Max moved in about a dozen years ago, it was because his presence increased my joy.  Many of the people I loved who have since passed from this life spent time with me in this condo.  My father, who died in 1996,  spent a couple of weeks with me when I first moved in, doing odd jobs and helping make the place home for me.  I raised my little welsh corgi mutant here and she went to doggy heaven as I sat on this floor and held her in my arms. My work life morphed from a job to a career during the time I lived here.    I met the love of my life while living here.  In this condo, I first learned how to be truly happy with myself and evolved into the person I am today. 

The moment of nostalgia was intense, but it passed as suddenly as it had come.  I shed a tear or two, but never felt the hurt I expected to feel.  It was a little disorienting to walk out the door, but not particularly painful.  I think, as I looked at the empty condo, I realized that the history I made there was not in the space, but in my heart.  And I am taking my heart with me, wherever I go.

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂

The Elephant in the Room

Most of the people I know struggle with one major obstacle in deciding when/if to retire.  Can they afford it?  We might as well face it.  Money is a big deal.   Few companies offer retirement benefits any more.  If the recession/depression of a few years ago proved nothing, it proved that our own sense of our economic stability can be fleeting.  People are living longer and their money must go further.  Medical costs are rising.  Social Security benefits on their own aren’t usually enough to provide the lifestyle most people want.  Additionally, many people look forward to having the time in retirement to do things they don’t have time to do while they are working.  Typically, those things cost money.

 

I may not be the best person to comment on the economics of deciding when to retire because I am one of the few people still blessed with an employer-sponsored defined benefit pension.  While nothing is completely guaranteed in this life, my government pension is about as secure as it gets.  Also, I am far from a financial expert.  I would not presume to give anyone advice on how to evaluate all the economic ramifications in making the very personal and complex decision about when to retire.

 

What I am an expert on, however, is worrying.

 

When I was thinking about retirement and trying to decide if I could make it work economically, I did the computations every which way to Sunday.  In every scenario, it seemed clear that I would be fine.  Still, I could not get over the feeling that I was somehow missing a key consideration and would end up destitute, eating cat food for Thanksgiving dinner.  As worriers tend to do, I came up with some strategies to try to control the thing which I feared.  While my strategy did not completely end my anxiety, it helped a lot.  I thought I’d share what I did, in case any of you world class worriers out there might find them helpful.

 

I call it my “Three Ps” plan to financially confident retirement.  Note that none of these “three ps” actually involve amassing any wealth, changing the amount of money you have, or saving on expenses.  Smarter, more financially savvy people than I can probably tell you how to save and grow your retirement funds.  I am going strictly from the point of view that “it is what it is.”

 

Plan

Create a tentative budget for living expenses, based on what you currently spend. Make sure to include regular savings to build an emergency fund.  You may not need to save as much as you do while working, since you are no longer “saving for retirement,” but you can’t just start spending willy-nilly without saving anything for a rainy day (remember, I’ve moved to the southeast where there are many, many rainy days!) Then consider what is it that you really want to do in retirement and how much money will it take to live the way you want?  Be realistic.  Many people say they want to travel in retirement.  But do you really think you will or is it just something you say because you don’t know what else to do?  If you do want to travel, what would that look like?  A lavish beach vacation once a year?  A six-month tour around the world that will likely never be repeated?  A constant caravanning hither, thither, and yon to visit friends and family?  And will those friends and family members feel obliged to put you up when you are there hithering and thithering and yonning, thus saving you the cost of a hotel?  If there is a hobby you want to pursue, will there be ongoing expenses associated with it or is the cost mostly to obtain equipment, which you may already have?  Whatever you decide is important, make sure you include funding your retirement dreams in your living expense budget.  If it turns out that your retirement income will not stretch far enough to cover those dreams, you can determine how much longer you need to work to fund them.  Then, you decide if your dream to travel or take up polo is a bigger dream than your dream to stop working right now.  Only you can decide that.

 

Pay off your mortgage

Admittedly, this may not be a strategy that everyone can employ.  It might not even be the smartest use of money (remember my caveat on not being a financial expert), but there is a huge intangible benefit.  No longer paying that mortgage, usually the largest of all the bills we pay, is incredibly liberating.  You suddenly have all of this money every month.  If nothing else, you are assured of being able to afford shelter, a basic human need.  After all, once the mortgage is paid, that roof over your head is all yours.  Of course, sometimes that roof needs to be repaired and you need to account for those maintenance and carrying costs, but mortgage is the real killer expense.

 

Practice

For several years before I actually retired, I “practiced” living on the amount of money I calculated to be my retirement income and saved the rest of my salary and other work-related funds.  The benefits of this practice were twofold.  First, I built up a nice little nest egg that I used, in part, to put the down payment on the home I bought for retirement (which I paid off when I sold the home I had in my old state).  Because of this savings, I also knew I had a nice little cushion built up to tide me over any delays in actually getting my correct pension.  Secondly, living on only the money I expected to have in retirement proved to me that I could live and live reasonably well on the pension I expected.  This was a terrific confidence-builder and security blanket as I “took the plunge” into retirement.  Now, many people might not be able to live on what they expect to have in retirement while they are still working because they are still paying expenses that they do not expect to have in retirement- like a mortgage if you are going to be paying it off before or when you stop working or college tuition if you are waiting for that last child to graduate before you retire.  You can still employ this “practice” strategy.  Figure out how much you are paying for those expenses that will be retiring from your budget when you retire from your job and add that amount to the amount you expect to have in retirement income.  Then, live on that total and bank any employment-related funds above that “expected pension plus expenses that will get to stop paying at retirement” amount.   Even if there is nothing left over to bank, this exercise will give you the opportunity to really analyze whether the income you will have in retirement will be sufficient to fund the life you want to live.

 

At the end of the day, it is a scary and exhilarating decision to leave employment income.  While we dream of the day we can retire and enjoy the life we worked hard to attain throughout our careers, that elephant in the room trumpets financial doubts pretty loudly to those of us who tend to worry.  On the other hand, maybe it isn’t an elephant at all.  Maybe it is just our own insecure, self-doubting selves causing a ruckus over nothing.  I think the best strategy is just to think things through, analyze your finances realistically, and then…. Just Trust…. Yourself.

Terri 🙂

 

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.   In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

 

Taking the Plunge

Once or twice a year, something would happen at work that would stun me with its success. It might be that I’d solve some problem, convinced someone to do something that he or she didn’t want to do, got selected for some position I coveted, or just made a palpable difference in someone’s life. The improbability of the success of the accomplishment, as well as its elegance, would astonish me. I often exclaimed to anyone who would listen, “I might as well leave now and never come back because it’s never going to get any better than this.” I never really did leave and never come back, though.

Until today.

Today I retired and left my career as a mid-level manager for a major governmental agency. When I walked out of the building, I knew I was never coming back.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. Everyone talks about needing to prepare oneself for the emotional transition retirement brings. But what will that emotional transition feel like and how does one prepare?

My mother was afraid that I might regret not being “important” anymore. First of all, I never was all that important. Yes, I worked hard and achieved a certain amount of success in my career. People in my industry knew and respected me. Still, I think my job would have been a whole lot less stressful if I was anywhere near as “important” as people seemed to think I was. If I was so important, maybe people would have done what I told them to do a little more often. It is a lot more work to influence than to control. I’m kind of looking forward to not being in charge of anything anymore. Maybe I’ll learn to do a little better being in charge of myself.

Some friends pointed out that, after over 33 years in the same line of work for the same employer, I might over-identify myself with my job. I might not know what to do with my time. They cautioned me that I needed to have plans to keep me from getting bored and depressed. Considering I am selling my tiny condominium in a relatively urban southwest area and preparing to move 3000 miles away to live in a house about three times the size of the condo in a “countryish” location in the southeast and then turning around and moving my mother to said “countryish” community, as well, and doing this all within four months of retirement, I’m not too worried about being bored.

Other friends cautioned that I might feel some bitterness, born of the mental and physical exhaustion I had been experiencing the last several years of my career. That exhaustion, caused by persistently trying to do the impossible and feeling like a failure when I did not succeed, was a key factor in my decision to retire when I did. Yes, there were things about the culture of my agency and things that happened in the workplace that I thought were unreasonable and depressing. Just like every other job in the world. I do believe, however, that the people with whom I worked and the people who made decisions that led to these conditions were operating with the absolute best of intentions. Sometimes, there just is no good answer. My reaction to the conditions is my own issue and, if I teeter on the edge of lunacy, that’s my problem. I have always chosen to be happy and grateful for the wonderful people with whom I lived my work life over the past 33 plus years. We all have days when things get us down, but my absolute sense of being blessed beyond all measure always has and always will overcome any tendency towards bitterness.

My only real concern has been the possibility of losing the love of the circle of true friends I’ve encountered during my working years. I know people often lose touch with their colleagues after retirement. While we meet many, many people with whom we are friendly as we earn our livings, I have crafted and nurtured a few true, solid, beautiful friendships over the past years. These are the soulmates whose loss would tear large, irreparable holes in the very make-up of my psyche. I will use the same skills I used to craft and nurture true friends out of colleagues to make sure I never lose them.

So, as I walk out of the building today, I feel no regret that I am giving up my work life and no relief that I have made it out of an intolerable situation alive. After having the most beautiful send-off a person could imagine, I leave with joy. I am blessed to have had my career and I believe that others were blessed by my presence in that career. I am astonished, awed, and humbled by the knowledge that I have made a difference to people.

My career is not who I am. Who I am is what made my career a success. And I take who I am with me into the next chapter of my life.