Saturday, March 27, 2010

Another weekend to practice with a short to-do list. My husband is out of town, so I have the whole time to experiment. I'm reading "Superbia", a book about creating sustainable neighborhoods. I was led to this book by an initial interest in cohousing, which I'm still exploring. We love our house and our neighborhood, so the idea of moving away from it is a ways off. We hope to be able to age in place; we have eight grown children between us, and our hope is that one of them will decide to live in the main part of the house with their family and care for their elderly folks who live downstairs. Then, after we're gone, they can have the house. We haven't suggested it to any of them yet, though!

I slept until 8 this morning and was awakened by a knock at the door - our friend Leslie picking up a turkey for a dinner tonight that my husband Art would have cooked for the event if he'd been in town. We sat at my table chatting for a few minutes. She left, and ten minutes later there was another knock - my next door neighbor Jennie, to tell me she'd be feeding Bud, our pig, this weekend. That's a task I'd rather outsource when Art is gone, so I was glad to hear it. We talked at the same table for half an hour. When she left I got ready for my long walk, thinking how grateful I am for knocks at the door. And was reminded, again, about community and how we, as humans, tend to thrive when we have a supportive one.

I put "Superbia" in my backpack and walked to our local cafe for my usual Saturday breakfast. Chatted with the owner, Voula, and the server, Florence, and read a few pages of my book. Walked back toward home and stopped to talk with a morning gardener. Continued on to city hall to read the community bulletin board. They need volunteers for the Library Board - contact the mayor if interested. I love to read, but I'd rather serve on the city planning board, I think. This "Superbia" is reminding me of how nurturing a community can be - with community gardens, shared resources and neighborhood gatherings - and how the suburbs aren't like that, mostly, but can become so.

I sat at a picnic table in the city park and read two more pages before I saw a woman walking three brison frises. We discussed the dogs, how she acquired them (rescue/adoption), whether they're okay for people with allergies (they are, for her at least), their temperament (laid back), what they were originally bred for (lap dogs, and for picking fleas off royalty). I told her my last day of work is June 25; she said she has about five more years and envies me. After she left, I read three more pages and then walked through two neighborhoods, picked up a 16-ounce quad decaf iced mocha with whipped cream, and came home through our little town's forested park, City Light Woods. My pedometer says I walked 8478 steps - a little more than three miles. It's 1:30 p.m., I have the whole rest of the day by myself, and I'm loving it.

I'm practicing, remember, for when I'm not working.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I think I've changed my mind. I'm not going to take the ESL class until after I retire on June 25. I've been reminded by my friend Sharon that I'm practicing slowing down, and taking a 120-hour class while I'm still working isn't doing that. She asked if I was afraid of not having enough to do when I'm no longer working. She's only partly right.

Because I heard from our friend Jim in Nicaragua - you know, the guy who was looking for ESL teachers for the remote Solentiname community, a chain of islands in the southern end of Lake Nicaragua. He wanted to know our timeframe to come down and volunteer there. This will be a winter destination for us, escaping from our dismal Pacific Northwest January. But I've already got a trip planned to Hawaii for January. Doesn't it seem irresponsible to come home from the Big Island, take a week to read the mail and do the laundry and spend time with the cat, and then fly off to Central America? Even if it's to a destination where the hot water is merely warm and the nearest medical clinic is two hours away by boat?

And it's one thing to say, "Well, we'd like to volunteer to teach English in Solentiname." It's another to have Jim write and say, "When are you coming?" My BA is in English, and I've done some training in my work, but ESL is a new area, and so is real-life teaching. How will I know I can do this unless I register for the class tonight and knock myself out for my last three months of work, so I can tell Jim in plenty of time whether we're going to be there in January?

"Well," you could say, "You don't have to go to Nicaragua this January. You could go next year." I'd give you a blank look, because it hasn't sunk in yet that I could do that.

My husband Art's first reduced paycheck arrived yesterday. I've got spreadsheets that say this is what we should be expecting, but seeing the reality of a short-term disability paycheck - with all the old deductions still being taken out - made me reopen the spreadsheet to take another look. With that tiny paycheck, how can we possibly travel? And then I remember. We've planned for this. It's not the paycheck any more. Duh.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Last night my husband Art said, "You'll enjoy not working for about two weeks." "And then what?" I asked. "Then you'll be running around like a headless chicken, looking for something to do."

I hope not.

One of my plans for after June 25 is to explore teaching English as a second language. Yesterday I found an online course - 120 hours with an option to practice teaching. I think I might want to volunteer when we're traveling - maybe even when we're home - and I think the course will help me decide whether that's really the case.

This online program I found is 30 percent off if I sign up by March 31, and I have six months to complete the course. I'm tempted by the price, but not by the timing. See, between now and my last day of work I'm practicing doing less on the weekends. If I start this class now that won't happen. If I buy the class now and wait three months until I actually start the coursework, I'll have to get the 120 hours done in three months rather than six. That won't work, either, with the trips we've scheduled for the summer.

I want to have enough to do in the first few months so I don't have time to be the headless chicken. Then, when I emerge from my multiple activities in about October, I'll have been not working for four months and I'll already be used to it.

I want to get a running start on retirement!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Bag Lady has been around for the last couple of days. As I get closer to my last day of work, she mutters that no, I don't know what I'm doing and yes, we are going to need more money than we think once we're no longer working.

That might be because of the travel bills showing up on the credit card this month - the deposit on our September schooner cruise and the plane tickets to Alaska. These trips have been planned and budgeted for, but still.

Or it might be because I just realized my husband Art isn't signed up for Medicare Part B yet, for some reason, and we can't apply to our HMO for Medicare Advantage for him unless we have both Medicare A and B. Which I knew, but not that he was missing Part B. And, since I've done all the planning and budgeting and analysis for our retirement, I wonder what ELSE is missing. Some small fact, heretofore unknown by me, that will reduce our income by half, or make it taxable in a super-high bracket, or will make it not arrive in the bank account for nine months. Something I've forgotten or never learned will bring us down.

Probably not, I tell myself.

But still, with 64 more days of work before I hang up my systems analyst's hat, these Bag Lady murmurings are bothersome.

On the other hand, having a short to-do list isn't troubling me at all. I remember as recently as last weekend when I had to experiment with a short list, to see if I could take the day as it came. I did. And this weekend it's even easier.

Maybe my super-responsible, oldest-child left brain is twitching a bit as it feels itself losing control over my life. "Hey, Bag Lady, come on over and sit with her for the afternoon."

Or maybe I just need to go take a nap.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Sunday of my weekend with a short to-do list, I went for a four-mile walk in the morning. On the outskirts of my neighborhood I turned left instead of going straight. Within half a block I was someplace else - fields behind houses, different dogs, new construction. At the end of three blocks I descended a long set of stairs into a McMansion neighborhood I never knew existed, though I have lived in this neighborhood for 15 years. I could have been in a different state. Then behind that subdivision was the back of the high school my son attended, then the street I've driven on five thousand times at least.

What if I'd gone straight on my neighborhood road? Or added items to my to-do list? "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," I thought. Of course my experience was common - when I leave my routine I have the chance to be surprised.

Three miles into my walk my cellphone rang. An old friend, terminally ill, struggling with issues of resentment and forgiveness. Behind the fire station there was a little park where I couldn't hear the road noise. I sat at the picnic table and listened. I suspect some of my early retirement days will be spent with my friend in his final ones. I'm glad I'll have the open time and that I'm not afraid to do it.

After my walk I did some reading and took a nap. Oh, and four loads of laundry - the only remaining item on my to-do list.

I'd say my weekend experiment was a success.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I'm halfway through my weekend with a short to-do list. Yesterday I was finished with the list by noon and spent some time trying to convince myself I really needed to add a few things to the list. Then I lay on the couch, read my book and took a nap instead. It seemed weird to be doing this while not on vacation.

The book, "Smiling at the World," is by a woman nearly my age, also from the Pacific Northwest, who spent a year volunteering around the world. At first I was distracted by the writing style, but the time I'd allowed myself to lie an the couch and read also gave me time to think about volunteering - which is one of my goals in retirement. One of the book's segments is on a kangaroo refuge in western Australia. I'm thinking about looking it up online.

I also went for two walks - one to our neighborhood cafe for a late breakfast, and one after dark around the neighborhood with Art and the yellow lab who lives next door. I got in my 10,000 steps, had a nice chat with the dog's owner, and came home with that feeling you get when you've done something good for yourself.

Today I do laundry, work a bit on a collaborative piece my writing group is developing, and read some more. But it's without that sense of "oh, my god, what am I going to do?"

I realize I need to maintain my personal networks if I'm not going to be engrossed in checking items off a list. I knew that already, of course, but it's a more immediate priority as I shift from super-busy career woman to post-work life explorer.

I've incidentally discovered that, in my morning online time, I feel more connectedness with the blogging community than I do with Facebook - which seems odd at first, since I actually know all my Facebook friends, but have never met any of the authors whose blogs I read. Then it occurred to me that blogging requires thought and introspection, whereas Facebook needs only a keyboard.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I wrote earlier this week about being nervous without a long to-do list. I think it's the universe's way of getting me ready for retirement that I've got a short one again this weekend.

So I'm going to practice doing less. When I got home from work I'd planned to walk three miles - I wear a pedometer and strive for 10,000 steps a day. It was cold and windy during lunch so I walked only a mile, to the teriyaki take-out place. By the time I got home the wind had died down. It was about 40 degrees - chilly for Western Washington - and clear, and a three-mile walk at dusk would have taken a little less than an hour.

But instead, because I was tired from a hectic day at work, I decided to lie on the couch in my work clothes and talk to my husband Art about the economics class he attended today where the class discussed supply and demand and bailing out the banks versus lowering taxes. Then I fixed myself a bath and lay in the water reading the January/February 2009 issue of Sierra magazine, about green architecture and green renovation and small house design. I'm reading my magazines off the bottom of the basket, so being only 13 months behind is good.

Then I put on my comfy green pajamas and sat down to blog while Art fixed us soup for dinner. After dinner we'll watch a couple of episodes of Season 3 of The West Wing with our cat, Larisa, beside us, and go to bed, where I'll read aloud to Art until we're both sleepy.

The difference between this weekend and the last one is that I'm going to try hard not to put anything on a to-do list. I know I'm meeting a friend tomorrow for coffee, and buying a new pair of walking shoes because the soles on the old ones are worn smooth, and doing a few loads of laundry. But that's it, so far. I'm going to resist adding anything else to my list. Because, for this weekend, I'm going to try to do less. I may read more, but "Read 5 magazines out of the basket" is not going to be on any list - even if that's what I do.

I want to learn to do this - to relax and do nothing from time to time. For starters, I'll try it for the weekend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My mother never talked about her health, even during the last three years of her life when it was bad. She was in the Marine Corps during World War II, and supervised other women for part of that time. When they'd say they had cramps and couldn't march, she had no sympathy. "You enlisted saying you were healthy." She must never have had cramps.

When she lived in the assisted living place she didn't like to go to the dining room for her meals. "I don't want to be around sick people who need walkers and drool at the table." So she'd have some meals in her room instead, paying for the extra service. When she needed a walker she still didn't like to be around people with walkers.

When we'd ask her how she was, she'd say, "Oh, I'm hanging in there." Even when she was bedridden during her last illness. She said, "Nobody wants to hear about other people's ailments."

For the most part, I agree with her. But as I get older and acquire my own set of age-related ailments, it's somehow comforting to me to know I'm not alone. Like recently I've had problems with my eyes - the start of cataracts, a vitreous detachment and dry eye syndrome. When I noticed these symptoms, one by one, they were scary. I thought the fuzzy vision that my glasses didn't correct, and the flashes of light, and the irritated eyes, were unique to me. When I saw the doc for them, and did the reading, I realized all these things are very common as we get older. For some reason, that made me feel better.

I'm retiring in 71 more work days, and I intend to live a full, interesting life afterwards. And knowing that other post-work people may share my eye issues is comforting. We're all in this together, I know; I'm part of the community of the older and wiser. If I could choose my favorite age, what I am now - 61 - would be close to the top. And if this favorite age is accompanied by physical changes, I'll try to be a good sport about it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It has happened. I have a weekend day and, at 10:20 a.m. , I am caught up with all computer and paperwork tasks. I even did the taxes yesterday, in one day. I have remaining three loads of laundry. And that is it for today.

This rarely happens, and I am nervous. What will I do with myself today? My sister suggests I go to the gym and then read a book. I probably will do that, as I am basically an obedient person. But I am reminded that, in 74 more work days, I will be finished with what I have been doing five days a week, 8 hours a day plus lunch hour plus commute, for 20 years. I will have 50 hours more time available each week for myself.

So here, on a Sunday, I have one half of such a day, and I am nervous. This does not bode well for my future after retirement.

On the other hand, I've developed the habit, over my working years, of cramming all the paper and computer tasks into an hour at night and then the weekends. It feels right to be working from a long to-do list and to have it completed by bedtime on Sunday night. So my to-do list is done for the weekend - except for the laundry, which is an intermittent thing.

Maybe I should put each of the 11 books currently on my nightstand on a to-do list to read. And each of the 23 magazines currently in the basket in the living room. That would give me a good start on my post-worklife tasks.

I wonder if I can wean myself from a to-do list.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nope, I'm not berserk after all. I just got the travel planned before I started on the other parts of my retirement.

Today I found the mediation training I've been looking for. It's through the Dispute Resolution Center in my county, and there's a 40-hour basic mediation class in the second week of August that I'll sign up for. That's the first of several steps to becoming a certified mediator. If I don't like the class I'll at least know I looked at it. But I've taken classes in facilitation, and I've done some facilitating at work and with family members in conflict, and I think the process is interesting and productive. So when we get back from our week in Alaska, I'll have a short break before I start the mediation class.

Also, we know a fellow who runs a canoeing company. In the summer he's in Vermont, Newfoundland, and France. In the winter he's in Belize, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Several years ago we went with him to Nicaragua and fell in love with Solentiname, a group of islands in southern Lake Nicaragua.

Jim is working with the locals there on projects that will help them raise their economic prospects while not negatively affecting their way of life. Computers are going in, at a simple level, and kids are being tutored so they can compete with city kids for admission to the university. He wants people to come visit for a brief period and teach English.

Today I sent Jim this email:

Hello, Jim.

Art and I are retiring this summer, so we'll be looking forward to another winter visit to Central America.

Are you still doing community projects in Solentiname? Art and I are planning on taking training as teachers of English as a second language this summer. If we take the 60-hour course and obtain the basic certification, could we be useful to your program?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Linda Myers

Brier, WA

So, now that I'm moving forward on multiple fronts, I feel more in balance.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I may be going berserk. I've now got ten trips planned in the next 15 months.

None of them are longer than two weeks, and some are as short as four days. Maui, San Antonio, Disneyland, Alaska, Maine, Whistler, Utah, the Big Island, the Badlands, and Italy. We are not luxury travelers or souvenir junkies. We're not foodies or drinkers. We like to see new things, spend time with family and friends, read, and walk. All our upcoming trips will have some of that.

As each of these trips came up, I realized I wasn't having to look at my work calendar to see if I had enough vacation days on the books. There's no work calendar!

Ten years ago I planned only one trip in advance. Five years ago it was up to two in advance. The last couple of years it's been four or five in advance. But never ten.

I don't think I'm really going berserk. I've never had so much time to call my own, and I wonder if I'm overdoing it.

Because my Bag Lady is muttering in the corner.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This retirement thing is such a big deal for me that I decided to create a blog, and maintain it for a year, to process what's happening. I'm a talker and that's what works for me.

My husband Art is not a talker. We joke that, of 25,000 words allowed each day from people in our household, I get about 23,000 and he gets 2,000. So he doesn't talk much.

Art has worked for the electric company for the last 40 years. He had a hand surgery in January that will remove the arthritis pain he experienced in his thumb, but it will also reduce his grip strength by 30 percent or so. For his work - foreman of a crew - he'd need more strength than that. So, for the sake of the pain reduction, he decided to retire.

I worried about how he'd handle it. I thought I might have to be a cheerleader or an activities director. I hoped he wouldn't get mopey or depressed.

Art's been home now for about five weeks. He's wearing a cast on his hand while the surgical area heals. There's a lot he can't do. But there's a lot he can. Yesterday he spent the afternoon leveling part of the side of our steep driveway to create a terrace for two potato boxes. He used a shovel, a pickaxe, and the brute strength of a one-handed man - plus a cast hammer.

Last night I was looking for his checkbook. He's kept it in his lunchbox for all the years I've known him. But when I opened the lunchbox, it was clean and empty. I asked him what happened. Here's what he said in his Facebook entry for yesterday:

Yesterday I cleaned out my lunchbox, which was acting as a man purse for my work. It had many items that I would store in case I needed them for emergency - like old cookies and lollipops and unused keys. It was kind of nostalgic and something that I'm not going to use again since I'm retired.

Apparently Art is doing just fine with his retirement. That's a relief!