Thursday, April 29, 2010

I think it's really going to happen. Retirement, that is. Here's why.

1. My husband Art got a letter from our HMO telling him he's now in their Medicare program.
2. He didn't get a paycheck on the 22nd of the month, for the first time in 20 years. His pension, his long-term disability and his Social Security checks for the month don't arrive until May.
3. In two more days I'll be saying, "I'm retiring next month."
4. We're considering a transatlantic cruise for next May before our walking holiday, paying no attention whatever to the number of vacation days I have on the books.
5. Instead of flying to Disneyland with our granddaughters for three days in July, we're driving.
6. I've made a new to-do list of how I'm going to get everything done after June 25, and it's not all happening on Saturday or Sunday. In fact, there's nothing on the list at all for weekends.
7. Bag Lady is waking me up at night when I spend money during the day.
8. People at work are asking me if I want to go to lunch.

I found out yesterday that my droopy eyelids (caused, said my opthalmologist, by "gravity and time") that are diminishing my visual field can be fixed as a medical issue covered by my insurance! How cool is that?

Monday, April 26, 2010

I had a bad dream last night. Or, at least, I kept waking up. Bag Lady was in all her glory. See, I spent yesterday morning making travel arrangements for two trips we've planned - one to Maine for two weeks in September, the other to Mexico in January. And airfare is pricey. Mind you, both these trips are in the budget. But for some reason, Bag Lady thinks I've made a mistake in the budget. She's practically gloating.

I also spent several hundred dollars this weekend on a DNA analysis of all my family lines back six generations. I've been doing genealogical research for over a decade now, and this is a just-available test that may unlock some of my roadblocks. But it wasn't in the budget. I have some cash stashed for spontaneous things, and this is one of them. But how many times can I use the stash? Or how many times will I want to?

I know Bag Lady is a state of mind. But she almost has substance sometimes.

On the other hand, our July trip to Disneyland with our granddaughters has morphed into a road trip. The money we save will pay for the DNA analysis. Because in July I'll no longer have to count my vacation days. It will, instead, be the days of my life. And a road trip will be fun.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

We're getting there. Yesterday was Art's retirement party. He had to turn in his keys to the building. And when I updated our "executor information" spreadsheet, I replaced "PUD" (his job) with DRS (his state pension), SSA (Social Security), Veterans Administration (his disability pension), GHC (Medicare Advantage plan), and The Hartford (long-term disability). I told him now that he's retired, he's more important.

I have 44 more days to work. This week my supervisor asked what kind of sendoff I want. I told him a lunch for friends, no obligation, no management obligation, no toasts, no roasts, no gifts. Just lunch with friends. Actually, I'd like to just take my box of stuff home and call it a day, but I think markers are important for me and for my colleagues.

Who have already begun to detach. My friend Ken says that's human nature - everyone is getting ready for how it will be when I'm gone. I feel like Iceland - one foot is on one plate (in retirement, but not yet), and one foot is on the other (at work, working, but detached). I didn't feel like that before we went to Maui last week, but I do now that I'm back. It feels like Neverland - not very familiar, but not too uncomfortable, either.

Art will be working for the Census Bureau for a couple of months, so this week I signed up for the online ESL course. He'll be gone evenings and weekends, so I might as well get a head start on deciding whether I want to teach English while we're traveling. Seems like the right thing to do now.

On the travel front, we're making our July plans for Disneyland with our twin granddaughters. I think we'll be driving down with my ex rather than flying - and I can do that, now, since I don't have to count vacation days. Then, in September, we have a six-day schooner cruise in Maine. Just this week we found a couple in Maine who'd like to do a home exchange with us, so we'll be spending Maine week #2 on Peak's Island, just off the coast of Portland. Another instance of no vacation days to count. I like all of this. But I'm feeling some guilt that we'll be leaving our designer cat, Larisa, home alone. She doesn't like solitude at all. So simple travel won't be so simple. Still, I'm glad we've got her for the times we are at home.

As I wade through paperwork and other tasks this weekend, I'm looking forward to days after June 25 when I can work just a bit, then set the rest aside.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday - a beautiful sunny day in the suburbs of Seattle. I wanted to work in the garden or the yard, so I wandered outside where Art was already hard at work in his holey sweatshirt, suspenders, and ripped jeans. Art has been the primary tender of the spring garden since he's home during the week. So, not wanting to horn in on his project, I said, "What can I do to help?"

Art: Whatever needs doing.
Me: Well, I see some places in the raised beds where nothing has come up yet. What did you plant there?
Art: I have no idea.
Me: Well, when did you plant it?
Art: I don't remember.

So I planted more lettuce, peas and spinach in the empty spots. Then:

Art: Did you plant any bok choy?
Me: No. In this bed I planted lettuce.
Art: Well, I just planted bok choy there.
Me: You know, maybe we should make a plan for what goes where, and when we planted it, so we know what to expect.
Art: Why do we have to make a plan?

Sometimes a to-do list can be a good thing. What I added today is "make a yard and garden calendar."

Only 49 more work days until June 25!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We're home again, after six days on Maui. This is the first time we've been to Hawaii in April - usually we go in January, when the weather is dismal in the Pacific Northwest. Before we left for Maui, I'd been looking forward to booking two weeks on the Big Island for next January.

Now, though, I don't know. Even six days of relative idleness was a little twitchy. Part of that was commingling lives with the couple we traveled with - Art's brother and his wife. Part of it was TV yes, wi-fi no. But in the last couple of days my thoughts turned from the nine magazines I took along to read (yes, I read them all, with three torn-out pages for further exploration) and even from the delightful experience of going barefoot on cool tile floors and on warm sand. The thoughts, instead, were on my weekend to-do list at home - apply for Art's Medicare Advantage and our reimbursable medical expenses, prepare our budget for retirement, and attend the pastry class gifted to us.

Also, I noted the weather on Maui is iffy this time of year. On the road to Hana, the rain poured out of the sky, creating impressive waterfalls but few opportunities to hike to them, and little landslides along the road. Lying on the deck with my face turned sunward was a windy challenge. My recollections of Hawaii don't include weather obstacles. So maybe the perfect tropical vacation is something to relegate to the past, as we move forward into our next choices. Or maybe perfect is a state of mind and weather is just an incidental and I should just get over it!

On the other hand, as I come to the end of my worklife, I'm creating a new network of relationships. Multiple intentional conversations with my sister-in-law Joan were an unexpected treat.

For my writers group Tuesday night, I'm working on a short piece on boredom. I can see, as I write and rewrite, that boredom carries more than a tinge of fear for me. I'm a busy woman, and I want to take a look at how much of that busyness is avoidance of silence and empty time. Maybe something from my past, an old behavior I can let go of.

I'm glad to be back home, even to our gray Saturday sky.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day 5 of 7 days on Maui. No sunburn yet, but lots of good exercise walking on sand. Wonderful sleep. But today I am in an Internet cafe, catching up. I want to get away, but not too much.

I am reminded again that I am more comfortable when busy. My in-laws, traveling with us, lie by the pool and, in the evening, turn on the TV. Art and I read. I brought along nine magazines, and I've read six of them. I'm grateful to have a spouse who leaves the TV off at home.

Sandals. How wonderful.

Still, I'm ready to be coming home in two days. The Bag Lady did not join us on this trip, but she would approve our frugality.

49 more work days!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Yesterday afternoon was scary. I found out that my husband Art's Medicare Part B hadn't been set up yet by our local Social Security office. The interviewer forgot to talk about it in March, and I forgot to ask. Art is retiring on May 1, and we need to sign up with our HMO for the Medicare Advantage plan so he rolls directly from his employment-covered medical insurance. Inside my head, the Bag Lady took over.

I ran through the worst-scenario in my head: Medicare Part B doesn't come through until after May 1. Art is without insurance coverage. When he tries to get into Medicare Advantage after a short lapse of coverage, he can't get into the plan because he's 67 and has the usual pre-existing blood pressure and cholesterol issues. Our savings all go to his medical care. We become a statistic.

Not only did I run through this scenario, I trapped it in my head and replayed it multiple times during the evening, relating it to a friend over dinner and to my sister over the phone. At 3 a.m. I woke up for another replay. At 4 I went back to sleep and woke up at 7 feeling groggy.

Husband Art stopped by the Social Security office this morning and got enrolled in Medicare Part B. End of story.

But not really. I was feeling confident, almost cocky, that blogging about the Bag Lady would exorcise her from my head. I see that's not the case. I can talk all I want, plan every last detail I can think of. And there will be things that come up anyway.

Every now and then, I'm still afraid of my Bag Lady.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

We planted an early garden in February and covered the beds with plastic. Last week we removed the plastic since the danger of frost is past. We found the onions thriving and just about everything else dead. The solution is to replant, which we'll do this week.

I remember we didn't plan on this early crop succeeding. We said, "Worst-case scenario, we replant." And so we are. If we'd wanted to be more sure of success we would have waited until now. But that surety wasn't important. It was the attempt at an early crop and the willingness to fail. That's pretty cool for an achiever like me.

Next weekend we leave for six days in Maui. We got this vacation offer back in February, from Art's brother Joe and his wife Joan. They usually travel with another couple, but that pair had a change in plans, so we were invited. We've never traveled with Joe and Joan, and we've never been to Maui, and we've never been to Hawaii in April - we usually go to the Big Island in January when the weather is dismal in the Pacific Northwest. And usually we'd have to say no to a vacation week in April, because we save our time for a September trip and the previously mentioned winter getaway. But this year, we'll both be retired by the end of June. We don't have to count vacation days! So this April trip will have a couple of first - our first with Joe and Joan, and our first as retirees who don't have to count the days. We expect it to be warm, relaxing and interesting.

I noticed today when I reconciled the credit card that Art has been spending money on the garden for apparatus, tools and other thingies. He's a putterer, and he seems to be stocking up. I had a mild Bag Lady moment as I imagined him buying and buying and buying until the garage and the shed and the area under the back deck fill up with treasures - he's a pack rat and a saver; "you never know when this old soaker hose might come in handy for something". We've had discussions over the years about this tendency of his - actually, I've discussed and he's avoided - but I expect that now, in his retirement, he'll find uses for all the stuff gathering dust and mouse droppings out there. It's helpful for me to remember that he just added a small union pension to the checks that will be arriving each month. We hadn't counted on that money, so I figure if he buys for the yard and garden and garage and whatever else, he can do it with that money. Besides, I love how relaxed he looks when he comes in from working outside.