Saturday, February 27, 2010

We walked to our neighborhood cafe for breakfast this morning. As we waited for our omelets, I told Art about some wisdom I'd gotten about retirement from Kittie, a woman who follows my blog. Here's what she told me last week about the transition into retirement:

"There's a feeling of euphoria followed by a bit of a slump. I think it has to do with having too much free time. Most of my friends drifted, some longer than others. Before retirement, I really asked friends ahead of me what to expect. All said what I wrote above but added that long term goals kicked one back in gear faster. So, my hub and I selected joint goals and individual goals. This worked."

I reviewed my goals to date with Art. (1) Take a mediation class to see if I might want to be a volunteer or paid mediator with the court system, perhaps working in small claims or family law. (2) Take a three-weekend course in teaching English as a second language to see if I might want to do that for a time in Central America during the winter. (3) Take a Women Build course through Habitat for Humanity and then work on at least one house somewhere in the United States. (4) Learn the software at the massage clinic I have an ownership interest in.

The learning opportunities are relatively short-term goals to help me decide what I want to invest further energy in. Most important to me is to be useful. And - at the base of it all - to be healthy and fit enough so that I can pursue the long-term goals. Plus do all the traveling we have in mind.

I asked Art if he had any long-term goals. He said he hadn't thought about it, that recuperation from his hand surgery is taking most of his energy right now. But he did say - to my great surprise - that he'd like to take the class with me on teaching English as a second language. Just when you think you know someone!

We agreed that physical fitness is key. For now, we're doing a lot of walking. But we're also discussing how we want to get our strength training in - gym? bowflex at home? senior center? community rec center? - and our aerobic exercise - gym? walking daily up the steepest hill in the county? treadmill at home? Art says until the cast comes off his left arm (that will be on March 16) he doesn't want to make any commitments. I can live with that. I told him I'm thinking about going to the gym every evening, and that as I'm getting ready to leave I'll ask him if he wants to go, and he can decide. It will depend on the energy he has remaining at the end of the day. I'll do 15 minutes of treadmill or elliptical trainer, and strength training sometimes. This is just a temporary thing until we develop a more structured, supervised plan.

There are 79 more workdays until June 25.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Art and I arrived at the clinic for our massages and I found out my therapist had forgotten about my appointment. So now I am waiting 90 minutes for Art to be done.

I called the therapist and he was remorseful as usual. He asked if I wanted to make another appointment and I said I would think about it. This guy is the best - the best - massage therapist I have ever had. But I can't count on him to remember me every time. This has happened twice before - and I am an owner at one of the clinics he works at!

I decided that anger is not useful, especially directed at him. Quiet is better, and maybe a few weeks of appointments with someone else. This response is fairly new for me. I was raised by a mother who yelled and blamed, and that was my initial impulse for decades. Not so these days, usually.


Art and I went to the Social Security office today to talk to the lady about his entitlement, which will start the first of May. Also, the paperwork is complete for his pension application which will be mailed to Olympia in the next couple of days. And we got the last signatures for the long term disability policy. There is a LOT of paperwork to fill out and keep track of. I'm pretty good at it, but I wonder about people who aren't. Do they miss out on what they're entitled to? Do they get less? Do they wade for months through bureaucratic swampland until someone takes pity on them? Why the complexity?

I do the paperwork because Art would be one of the bureaucratic waders. He, in turn, does the grocery shopping and the cooking. It all works out.

I could probably make a simple living helping people like us get through the swampland.


We're planning a trip to Italy with friends for next year, in September or May. Originally it was going to be just a weeklong walk in Tuscany. It's expanding, to maybe an extra week or two in a timeshare, or a home exchange - and maybe to Austria or Switzerland instead of another part of Italy. We'll already be in Europe, and we won't have a pressing need to get right back home. This is so new - the freedom to stay longer. What a treat!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Today we finished setting up our winter garden. My neighbor Jennie is an old hand at this "season extending", and I'm a willing learner. We covered yesterday's plantings with plastic to keep the seeds warm. And today, Art and I built a potato box - my first ever.

Jennie and her husband Jason moved in last summer with their two preschoolers. Art and I have been so busy working all these years that we've never done much more than say hello to our neighbors. With Jennie and Jason we're sharing a garden space, eggs from their chickens, chain saws, repurposed wood, downed trees and home-baked cookies. When we're out of town, Jennie and Jason feed our potbellied pig and our cat; when they're gone, we feed their chickens and feed and walk their dog.

As I transition from work to home, the prospect of sharing lives and time and resources with neighbors feels like a reward. I noticed last summer that when I was working in the garden, neighbors on walks would stop to chat. It was such a treat - much more interesting than being inside on the computer.

I was worried at first that I'd be lonesome when I quit work. But as June 25 - my last workday - grows closer, I can see I'm already paying attention to my neighborhood community. It doesn't feel so much like quitting work any more. It feels like moving on.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thursday and Friday were sunny days this week. On my lunch hour I walked two miles, squinting into the sun without my sunglasses, then returned to my cubicle. Today was a sunny day also. I worked with my next door neighbor in our joint garden, planting winter crops - broccoli, onions, lettuce, spinach, carrots and peas. I got the same feeling of time standing still out there as I did last summer when we harvested 28 quarts of green beans from one 3 x 11 bed.

When I'm no longer working I can spend Thursdays and Fridays outside, too, if it's sunny. I can save paperwork for gray days. Even gray days during the week, if I want to. The sun's light will be mine whenever it appears.

What a gift that will be!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I went to my writing group tonight. We're three to six women, depending on who's in town or in the country on the 1st or 3rd Tuesday of the month. We met in a writing class four years ago or so. We're all at least 50; I think I'm the oldest, but not by much.

We all sometimes feel remorseful that we don't write as much or as often as we "oughtta". Sometimes we write during our group time. We support each other's efforts, sporadic or otherwise.

In the past few months we've been thinking about doing some collaborative writing. If, say, the assignment is 300 to 500 words that include the words "storage unit," we all come to the gathering with our work and read it aloud. Everyone's is surprisingly different, reflecting our selves and our histories. Pulled together into a single piece, we say something about ourselves as a bonded group of women.

Our current assignment is an abecedarium, where each of us has taken five letters of the alphabet and committed to write 200 to 300 words on a state of mind - a noun - that begins with one of our assigned letters. One of my letters is V. I'm considering vitality, vigor and valuable as possibilities for the write. The last sentence of my V creation must contain the word chosen by the woman who's got the U. We will let each other know by next Sunday evening what words we've chosen, so the transition sentences will work out.

I expect our collaborative effort will speak, again, to who we are as women and as a group. Even though we all expect it to happen, we'll be surprised anyway. Each of us has pieces of the whole thing, but only all of us together have the entirety. And we won't know what it is until we're there!

That's kind of how this year of transition is for me, I think. I have ideas, and some pieces, but the whole thing won't be there until it's there.

I am totally grateful to these women who have become my friends. The writing is almost - but not entirely - an incidental.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My father was a career military officer. When I was a kid we moved around a lot. I learned to make friends easily and leave them behind without pain. My extended family was distant both physically and emotionally; I have nine cousins and know only a few of them.

Last year on Facebook I connected with the four cousins on my father's side. This weekend Art and I flew to Las Vegas and spent time with two of them, Mike and Steve. I had never met Mike and I hadn't seen Steve in over 50 years. We talked as we walked and ate and did the tourist thing. We discovered what we had in common. Apparently I look just like Mike and Steve's sister, Georgia. Mike is the image of my father, who died over 30 years ago. Steve shares my inquiring temperament. They are family found.

Being connected to family and friends lights the corners where my Bag Lady hides.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It wasn't raining today at lunch, so I went for a two-mile walk on my usual route. I realized, as I walked, that I've shifted out of fear mode, "Oh, my god, I'm not working after June 25, and that is terrifying, and whatever will I do with myself, and how can we afford it?" to anticipation mode, "Oh, my gosh! After June 25 my life will change completely, open up entirely, and be way more flexible, and that is exciting, and there are so many things I want to do, and we can afford it."

I wonder if this shift, which I realized just today, is because I'm writing about the experience. Or whether it's a natural, predictable progression that happens to everyone as they move from an active worklife towards the new possibilities of retirement. At work, I feel engaged in the immediate tasks at hand, and I'm at least as productive as before I made the decision to leave. But my identity is no longer in my workplace. It's like I'm inside a transparent bubble that brings me to work in the morning and takes me home at night, and on June 26 it will keep me at home. I'm moving on already.

I'm telling people at work one at time, in casual conversation, and every person I tell makes it more final in my own mind. Last week I was saying, "If nothing changes, my last day at work will be June 25." Today I'm saying, "My last day is June 25." It's not an "if" any more. At least, it doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm doing routine tasks to prepare for Art and me not working. In addition to preparing the budget, I'm checking out interest rates on short-term CDs. So far I'm find the difference in rates between our good savings account at USAA and a six-month CD is quite minimal - hardly worth the loss in liquidity for an extra eight dollars or so a month.

Also, getting ready to have Art apply for Medicare B and Social Security, I found out that the Social Security Administration handles both of them. That simplifies things, I hope. So I'll ask Art to call and make an appointment for us to talk to someone at the local office. We have a few special circumstances that will require him to apply in person. He's a vet, for one thing, and apparently there's an additional benefit, but you have to ask for it and take in your DD-114 (military discharge document). Also, both of us have state pensions and haven't paid into Social Security for 20 years. He has 30 years in SS prior to that, so he'll get his full entitlement. But I won't; my entitlement will be reduced by a portion of my pension, when I apply for it at age 65. I'm not sure, either, whether my spousal benefit will be reduced as well. In planning for our finances, I want to know the good and the not so good. So a personal appointment is a good idea. As things get simpler, my Bag Lady recedes into the shadows.

Art has an appointment for an interview with the Census Bureau - there are neighborhood part-time jobs available this spring, and it might be fun for him to get out there and chat with neighbors. Usually he makes an excellent impression on other people. They all think he's a calm and laid-back guy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Something funny happened at work today. I was in a team meeting with my manager and two teammates. The manager said to my teammates, "I need to talk to you this week about your goals for the year." This happens annually so we have something to measure for our evaluations.
Then he looked at me. "You don't have goals for this year." That's because I'm leaving the company on June 25. I said, "Yes, I do have goals. They just aren't here at work." What a great feeling!

We met with our financial planner tonight. I finally get how we have enough money for me to stop working three years before I turn 65. I mean, I knew it, but I didn't get it. How cool! Yay!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

While most of the rest of the world watched the Super Bowl today, I toiled over our 2010 retirement budget. I keep meticulous records of our spending from past years. The challenges are (1) our income sources are changing - no longer two paychecks for 12 months, but one for three months and one for six, and other sources after that; and (2) we'll be cutting costs in retirement, and it's hard to estimate which costs will be easy to cut, which will even be possible.

On the other hand, having these numbers in front of me will put the Bag Lady in her place.

We've been eating at home more often now that Art is no longer working. For the first time in a while, the refrigerator is full and challenging us with its cache of leftovers. Every time we open the white door in the kitchen instead of walking up the street to our neighborhood Italian place, or instead of cruising by Taco del Mar for a quick baja bowl, we lower those food costs. I've talked to friends and relatives who've retired, and they all comment on how much less they spend in restaurants. I used to think it was because they couldn't afford to go out; now I realize they're finding riches in their own kitchens. It's an easy way to save money.

As we move forward, I'm looking forward to find those other cost-cutting opportunities. I was working today on our travel budget. We're spending Thanksgiving in Utah again this year. The airfare is $700 for the two of us. We won't be working by then, so it would be a lot cheaper to drive - a two-day drive, one night each way in a motel, plus meals. That's a significant savings in travel costs - if the weather cooperates.

I'm hoping this new way of looking at finances will be fun. My Bag Lady deserves a rest.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This weekend I'm putting together a retirement budget. We're meeting with our financial planner on Monday night, and she's sent us a form to fill out, so doing both this weekend will be convenient.

I've watched the stock market go down this week. My Bag Lady is sitting quietly in the corner of my mind. I remember the last time this happened I was full of terror, thinking I'd have to work forever and even then I'd be homeless. This time, I see it as part of a cycle. It's my responsibility to diversify so enough assets are outside that cycle. Which I have.

I talked to an old friend tonight. Apparently my Bag Lady visited her this week because she's never been a worrier about money, and now she is. Her husband's 70th birthday is coming up, and the Social Security conversation will be happening. She's drawing a state pension - as will I - and there's a provision in the Social Security calculation that looks at the amount of state pension and reduces the Social Security entitlement by some percentage. She doesn't know how much that will be, but all of a sudden she feels uncertain. What will happen if her husband dies?

I reminded her that he's a financial rock star and that he has undoubtedly provided for her. We commiserated, though, about the idea of being financially dependent on another person, career women that we've been. It's uncomfortable.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I took myself seriously. I looked into mediation training.

I found the Washington Mediation Association. Their webpage lists assorted classes in basic mediation training and other more advanced opportunities. If you want to be certified, you take a basic class (40 to 50 hours in class, as I recall). After that you need at least 24 hours of approved supervised mediation through an approved practicum program or with an approved mentor, plus at least 36 hours of additional mediation.

Mediation training sounds exciting and also scary. I'm an analyst by profession, and mediation is different. It means I'll need to open up my mind and be willing to learn and grow. Even if I just take the training and never use it working for the courts, I'll have it available to use in my life and any other work I might do.

I want to be pretty busy when I first stop working. So I'm thinking I'll take the basic class in late summer or early fall, right after I spend a few weeks sleeping as late as I want in the morning!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I want to be useful to the community - whether in my neighborhood, in my town, in my country or internationally. I've got a few ideas I want to explore.

Several years ago I talked to my friend Dorre, who serves as a volunteer family law mediator in the Yakima court system. These days, mediation (collaborative law) is an effective and economical way to resolve many disputes without the need for attorneys or a trial. Dorre said there were classes available, and internships - out of Everett, which is close to where I live.

Then, today, I was in small claims court. For the cases where both the plaintiff and the defendant were present, they were assigned to a mediator and sent to another room to see if they could resolve their dispute. The judge instructed participants to "think outside the box" and come up with a solution that would work for both people. He told of an instance where a plaintiff and a defendant hated each other, and the defendant owed the money but didn't want to pay the guy he hated. During mediation they agreed that the repayment could be made with a donation to a charitable organization. Good idea!

So now I know about two areas of the law where mediators are used. I wonder if the training is the same - if I could choose which area to work in - whether I'd need more college coursework - how long a commitment I'd need to make. Could I work, say, two or three mornings a week during the spring and summer, then be free to travel at other times? Could I be on call for vacation relief?

I have questions. But I also have lots of interest and curiosity about this possible way to be of service to the community. I know how to listen, and think, and facilitate. Those are a good beginning. It's time for me to start exploring what's involved in becoming a mediator.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I've figured out that when I'm no longer working, I need daily computer access, to come up to date with friends and the news. Last month, on vacation in Sedona, we didn't have wi-fi in our condo. So twice a day I made the 200-yard trek to the clubhouse, where I logged into Facebook, Yahoo, and our email account. Twenty minutes later I was refueled.

I also need a purposeful, focused computer activity that uses my brain. I've been doing that for many years at work, and it will still be important. But it will be my topic and on my time. Maybe I'll continue the genealogy research I put down a few years ago. Maybe I'll work part time from home for a company as help desk support. I'd like to think my temperament and personality will change into one more mellow and relaxed, but I doubt that will happen. So I will be looking for something interesting and productive online. I suspect it will come along when I'm ready.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I had an aha moment yesterday. You have my permission in advance to laugh.

My Bag Lady sometimes wakes me up at night asking about our retirement budget. "How are you going to cut back and spend less?"

So Art and I were taking a walk - we'd been cooped up for four days while he recovered from his hand surgery, and I was ready for some fresh air. As we neared home, I said, "Do we have anything to fix for dinner?" He said yes, there were a couple of steaks in the freezer, and yams, and green beans from our garden.

I thought to myself I really wasn't in the mood for steak. I wanted chicken. I thought about walking to the closest grocery store and picking up a chicken. Then I had my aha moment. I realized I'd be paying whatever the store wanted me to pay for the chicken. But if we waited until chicken went on sale, we'd get more for our money. All we'd lose out on is chicken today.

So we thawed out the steaks! And they were ribeye, my favorite.

I've always chuckled at Art's habit of poring over the grocery store ads and clipping coupons. He spends half an hour a week doing this, and then he might go to as many as five stores, picking up only the sale items. I thought that was a tremendous waste of time. When I need to shop, I go to the QFC - our closest store - and get everything I need.

But once I'm no longer working, I'll have the time to save the money. I relayed that information to my Bag Lady, and last night she didn't wake me up.