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 🙂

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.