Retirement 101: The First Year

Just before I walked out the door for the last time

A year ago, give or take a couple of weeks, I took a photo of my emptied classroom and walked out the door for the last time. I posted that photo on Facebook recently as part of the “Photo-A-Day” project (the day’s topic was “empty”), and a friend asked me how “retirement 101” has been, which of course got me thinking, and so here is my testament to the year. It’s a bit ironic that I still seem to measure out the year in terms of the school year rather than the “traditional” calendar. Maybe that’s just the way it will always be, but I’m OK with that!

I was eager, in June, to start this new phase of my life, and my husband and I had big plans marked on the calendar for the first few months. We were not quite finished with some home renovations, and in July we began our 2011 Great Adventure, a cross-country road trip that took us 11,000 miles and nearly three months away from home. We returned to New Hampshire in late October, just a few days ahead of twenty inches of snow that had us wishing for the southern warmth we had so recently left behind. We finished our house project just before Christmas, and then the winter settled in.

I’ve never been fond of winter. I don’t like the dark or the cold, and I normally get the “winter blues” right after Christmas. But this year, since I was retired and home most of the time, it seemed to be darker and colder.  I did a LOT of reading. While we were on our Great Adventure, I had joined Goodreads, a social networking site based on reading — it’s a great site and I recommend it if you like to read. I entered many books I had previously read, and then started logging my current reads and even occasionally writing some reviews, something I had always wanted to do but never was able to keep up. Tally so far in my retirement: 44 books!

Being able to get away when it’s not a school vacation week is a wondrous thing! I flew to Florida to spend a few days with my sister, and to South Dakota to spend a few days with my son and his family. In April, we drove to Virginia to visit with good friends there. A couple of times, different friends “from away” came to spend a few days with us; one of the great things about our home renovation is that we now have space for guests to sleep. Yay!

In January I self-published a small volume of my poetry. The really exciting part about this is that people actually bought copies of it, and some even asked me to sign their books! (If you’ve been meaning to get one, here’s the link: All Stories Have a Beginning, Middle, and End.)

One of the biggest changes in our household this year has been my return to the kitchen. My husband retired a number of years ago, and he willingly and cheerfully took over the cooking so that I wouldn’t have to when I came home from work. (Lucky me!) But now it was my turn, and not only have I done that, but I’ve also learned how to cook differently. We eat more fresh foods, more organic, less meat, and virtually nothing processed. I’ve also learned to bake bread. Buying all that fresh food has been expensive, though, and we’ve decided to grow our own veggies this summer for the first time in many years. Not sure how all the rain we’ve been getting is going to impact the results, but our investment has been small and hopefully it won’t be a total disaster. A friend is organizing a community market for our town this summer, and I’m looking forward to having that as a great resource, too.

Creative pursuits have continued. In January I launched a “poem a day” project. Today is the 155th day of the year, and I have written 158 poems so far. There are many days when I don’t write, but there are other days when I pen more than one, so that goal is being met. The quality of the writing is another whole matter, and I’m not sure that the daily drill is worth it in the long run. The best poems were written in January and February, when I was not only motivated but had fewer distractions (because it was winter) and was able to spend time reading published works and thinking poetically (yes, it’s a mindset). Once the warmer weather arrived (starting with a crazy and unprecedented week in March), I’ve spent much time outside working in the yard, and less time thinking about writing poems. I tell myself that even bad writing can give me material to revise later, but the sheer quantity of work might make that impractical. I shall continue with the project, but it likely will be modified in years to come. I do want to maintain the regular practice of writing poetry, but I think a more flexible regimen will be more practical and will raise the bar of excellence. Maybe the daily practice can be modified to include reading (I can log what I read) as well as writing.

I love the “super zoom” on this camera; it’s equivalent to an 800 mm lens, and it’s great for the wildlife shots I like to take.

My interest in creative photography has expanded. I was able to purchase a new camera this winter, and with the arrival of birds and flowers I am having a lot of fun with it. Over the years, and especially as I posted photos of our 2011 Great Adventure, I’ve considered setting up a small business, selling my pictures. At first I envisioned doing this at craft shows, but watching my dear friend become a slave to that process turned me away from that idea. Another friend then steered me toward online selling and I am almost ready to launch my new photo gallery! I’ll definitely be writing more about that in the next few days and weeks.

Now that I look back on the year, it is clear that I have not been a slug after all!  I know I am hard on myself, and I continue to struggle with a need to accomplish something purposeful every day. I think my goal for the second year of retirement (see, there I go again, having to set another goal) will be to lighten up and enjoy myself. Sounds like I need to plan to be spontaneous . . . I think I can, I think I can!

Life is good, and I am truly grateful.


A secret — revealed

This was a view out the window of the plane that brought me home on Monday night.

I am not a secretive person, but I have been harboring a secret throughout our Great Adventure. This is my true confession.

Early in my teaching career, I fell in love with presenting workshops for teachers. The first one was in the spring of 1993, when my colleague and dear friend Lorna and I presented our teaching unit, “Perspectives of Vietnam” before a large audience at the annual conference of the New England League of Middle Schools. Ever since then, I have volunteered to do countless workshops for teachers. I find it incredibly energizing and rewarding to share what I know with other teachers.  This passion was advanced when I joined my school district’s Professional Development Committee, a group charged with planning educational opportunities for teachers in the district; we are also responsible for making sure that state certification laws were being followed and ensuring that all of our recertifying professionals are meeting the necessary criteria.

The setting of this story now switches to my last year of teaching before retirement. I saw a great opportunity to continue my work in professional development, and so I set myself up as an “educational consultant” specializing in professional development for schools and school districts. I also asked to fill the empty seat of “community member” on the SAU Professional Development Committee.

Yes, I want to write during my retirement. Yes, I want to play, and make art, and travel with my husband and dogs. And I am going to do all those things. I’m also going to – occasionally – continue to work with teachers. I can do this work on a very part time basis, and it may even open up some opportunities for more travel as time goes forward.

I didn't expect to be able to see these flowers this year; it's a lovely surprise.

So here’s the part you’ve been waiting for: as I write this, I have returned to New Hampshire, for two days, and I’m sitting in my own kitchen looking out the window at my own garden. I have been contracted by my former school district to present a series of workshops for all new teachers, their mentors, and administrators of all five schools.  The first one is scheduled for this week; I will administer the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Inventory) and teach about personality types to new staff. In October and November I will lead follow-up sessions to reinforce and extend the knowledge of type theory gained this week. After that, I will be leading workshop sessions on Multiple Intelligences.

I haven’t told more than about two or three people about going home to do this work, and at first I was having fun thinking about how shocked my friends would be to see me around town, but as I prepared to leave I decided it doesn’t have to be a secret. So now it’s public knowledge.  I’m excited about this opportunity to keep my toes in the water, so to speak – but I don’t want a regular job, even part time. This will give me the best of both worlds, and who knows what can happen? It’s all good.

So this was the reason for us to “park and regroup” in Salt Lake City for a week or so – my husband and dogs are hanging out there to wait for my return in a couple of days. He lived in the Salt Lake area back in the 1960s and he may try to find some old friends and do some guy stuff, like visit the classic car museum. When I return we’ll probably stay around for a day or so — doing whatever we decide to do whenever we want to do it — and we’ll resume our Great Adventure!

Life is good.

The New Adventure Begins

It's starting to look like a real room!

My official retirement began about three weeks ago, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to think about it. Nothing feels different to me yet, since being out of school for summer is part of the natural rhythm of many years.
I hadn’t planned that the last article in Harleywoman Writes would be the one I wrote on the last day in my classroom, but once it was written and posted, it became clear that just as the school year was over, the blog was done, too.

And all the boxes and boxes of stuff I brought home from school at the end have been piled into every nook and cranny that I could find – way too many for our tiny home, and so “The Office Project” had to commence. The idea to winterize our unused front porch and convert it into an office area for me was born about three years ago, and my husband immediately installed five brand new energy efficient windows, but then the project stopped. In his defense, I knew that there were some major construction problems that he was trying to solve, and it took us this long to figure out the solutions. And we did figure it out, so as soon as I was done with school we started to work . . . and work . . . and work some more. I won’t go into all the details, but many of you, dear readers, know by the time you’ve done a few, that home projects always take much longer than planned and are much harder than predicted. And so it goes.

But we’re really getting there! Insulation and beadboard walls are up, paint is going on, and it’s really starting to look like a room.

And that’s about all I’ve managed to do in the last three weeks! Starting this new blog has even been tough, fitting in an hour here and there. And we’re supposed to be leaving for our summer/fall journey West in about a week! I think there will have to be some flexibility in our plans somewhere. I promise to keep you posted – this blog will be a travelogue of sorts as we travel, with lots of photos and stories to come. For now, I’m dividing my time painting, trying to organize all the stuff that will go on the shelves, and using spare minutes to keep the weeds from taking over the flower gardens. I hope you won’t give up on me — because I will write again!