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.


Creative Every Day

When I take myself too seriously, I think about my visit to the Spam Museum. It's impossible to take yourself seriously when you go there!

I’ve written a bit this year about my project to write a poem every day, something I had always wanted to do but knew I couldn’t. Until this year, that is. One of the perks of retirement is having time to do things one has always wanted to do. I am really excited to announce that I have written 118 poems so far this year, and today, as I write this article, it is the 113th day of the year, so I’m ahead of the game.

I decided early on that I was not going to obsess about this project, and if a day here or there went by with no poem written, then I would write more than one on other days. I also decided to turn off my inner critic. It’s not about writing my very best work every day, which could be terribly time-consuming – it’s about the process. So even when I know I’m writing badly, I’m OK with that. I can always go back and revise. On the other hand, I’ve been thrilled when I have written well; there are quite a few poems that I’m really happy with, and it’s always a good day when that happens.

Today I made a fun discovery that melds nicely with my poem-a-day project. Creative Every Day is a WordPress blog that encourages creativity in whatever form it might take. Its author, Leah Piken Kolidas, also offers two different creative challenges: Creative Every Day, which she started in 2008, and Art Every Day Month, which runs each year in November.

I like a few things about her challenges. Creativity doesn’t have to be only art, or photography, or any one thing; it can be anything, including playing with your kids! She includes monthly themes to help participants “deal with the dry spells” (which I wrote about in my last post!), and she encourages people to break the rules. One’s creativity doesn’t have to take the same form all the time; the suggested themes are only suggestions; to “prove” one’s daily creativity, one might post on a blog, or on Twitter, or on flickr, or even in weekly emails to her. Having fun and being creative are at the heart of the projects, and I think it doesn’t get any better than that when it comes to encouraging one’s originality/imagination/inspiration/art.

Because I’m excited about this, I have embedded the Creative Every Day button in my sidebar, and while it isn’t a link to the blog, I did include a link in the sidebar blogroll. (If you have arrived on this page as a separate link from my home page, the sidebar won’t show. To see it, just click on the Harleywoman Writes header at the top of the page.) Please visit Leah’s blog, and think about joining the challenge! Just for the fun of it!

P.S.  As I write this post, I am realizing that I have been taking myself much too seriously lately, so today’s discovery is already making me smile. Whenever I take myself too seriously I try to remember to think about my 2002 visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, with my friends Lorna and Rachael and that ALWAYS makes me smile. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that . . .

Life is good.

It’s All a Frame of Mind

My lack of blogging in recent weeks and months has weighed heavily on my mind, and I’ve been trying to figure out why it is now so darn hard for me to come up with ideas of what to write about. During the last school year it was practically magical how each week, there would be a great idea, just hanging there in my brain. Now? It’s just not happening that way.

I fear that now, since I spend most of my waking hours at home, my brain isn’t being offered those glimpses into situations and conversations that were the fodder for my blogging. And it is true that my activities now are more inwardly focused, quiet. It’s a big lifestyle change! I have a lot to learn about how to “be” retired, but  I’m not just hanging here like a lump, really! I traveled to Florida a week or so ago to spend a few days with my sister — the 80 degrees and sunshine did much to help my fight against the New Hampshire winter blues that I inevitably feel come February. Next week my dear friend from Canada is coming to visit for a few days, and when she leaves, I’ll fly to South Dakota for a delightful visit with family (and grandchildren)! Wow — I’ve been busier than I realized.

It’s all a frame of mind, I think. During the last year that I taught, I held blogging at the front of my brain, and so going through the days my brain would land on a situation or experience and “bookmark” it as a good topic to write about. I’ve not continued to do that, especially now that I’m concentrating on writing a poem every day, which is a much more introverted and personal mindset.

And so I shall share a recent poem with you. I drove to Massachusetts to visit my brother this past Monday (gosh, do I ever stay home?) and as I returned to New Hampshire it was dusk. Here’s what happened:


This evening as I traveled home,
a living haiku
danced before my eyes. 

There must have been a hundred geese
flying north
                  in a collection of chaos
that included a couple of loose strings,
halves of a V,
each disconnected from its partner.

Then, from the back, one goose flew
fast and strong,
faster and stronger than all the others
until he was at the very front of the pack
with some distance between him and the next in line.

My road curved away from this sight
and I lost the view.
Turned a corner and saw them again:
           Five large formations
       undulating, north bound geese
         round the bright full moon
 Life is good.
photo from sunset geese by Scorpions and Centaurs

It All Comes Back to Poetry

My book is published!

Big news today! I have taken care of all the details and can now let everyone know that my book has been published and is available for purchase! Called Every Story Has a Beginning, Middle and End, the book is a collection of nineteen poems I wrote as a reflection of the nineteen years I taught at the school in my town. You can preview it and order a copy online by clicking on the title link above.

The writing was mostly done over the span of many years, and the topics include poems about students – “War, Personally,” for example, was written about a student who was killed in Afghanistan. There are poems about the things I taught – “Current Events” and “Teaching About Vietnam #1,” poems about the things I learned – “Remembering 9/11”, and poems about the things I hoped for – “I Know What’s Best For You.” Putting the book together was fun although getting the formatting right and getting every page exactly the way I wanted it to look was “a challenge the size of Wisconsin” (quote from a former student’s graduation speech).  It was a great learning experience, I’m happy with the finished product, and I’m already thinking of what I’ll write for my next book.

I do have a young adult novel in my brain that I’m starting to work on; I think it will require a pretty long gestational time, though, since writing narrative is not something I’ve done much. It will be partly historical fiction so I have a lot of research to do. For me, the poetry comes naturally, and I’ve considered writing my novel in verse, but because of the framework/structure I’ve planned I don’t think it would work. I may use verse in the flashbacks, though. Once I get going we’ll see what happens – I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, my New Year’s Resolution to write a poem every day remains successful! I have even managed consistently to quiet the inner critic’s voice; I don’t expect that every poem will be good, and I know that some are just plain bad. But that’s OK – all of them could become fodder for new poems later on, and I think I’ve written a few that are pretty good already.

One thing that I believe poets need to do is read other people’s poetry, and so this week I’ve read I Shall Not Be Moved by Maya Angelou, and Let Evening Come: Poems by Jane Kenyon, both borrowed from the town library.  I particularly like the title poem in this collection, which you can read here. I also checked out Kenyon’s The Boat of Quiet Hours; her poems truly resonate for me. She lived in a New Hampshire village not far from my own town, and her topics embrace the everydayness of life in New Hampshire. Some titles: “Taking Down the Tree,” “The Blue Bowl,” “Staying At Grandma’s,” and “Finding A Long Gray Hair.”  For me, her work is thought-provoking but not esoteric, inspirational but not preachy.

I have a dear friend, a sheep farmer among other things, who always says that given enough time, every conversation will eventually come back to sheep. I guess I feel that way about poetry. Given enough time . . .

Life is good.

Changing Old Habits, Forming New Ones

When I retired in June, we knew that our finances would look a lot different; I was very nervous about the drastic decrease in our cash flow. My husband assured me time and time again that it would all be OK. It turns out that we were both right. We’re doing OK with it, but it is a huge change. One effect of the change is that we have been working on finding ways to reduce costs by changing old habits. I am getting quite proficient at turning off lights, and Doug has fixed the hoses on the washing machine. Somehow they were reversed when the washer was installed, so the cold water settings were actually hot, and hot was cold. Not only were the wash load temperatures reversed from the dial indicators, but every load has been rinsing in totally hot water. No clothes were ruined, but by putting them right I know we’ll save money, and now that I know the selection dial is correct I’m choosing to do most washes in cold water as well. While we were thinking about the hot water, we’ve insulated our hot water heater, too. It’s amazing how all these little things can add up over time, and I’m sure we’ll find more ways to save as time goes forward.

But the biggest change so far is that we have cancelled our cable TV and land line phone service, and it turned out not to be as hard as we expected it to be. We kept the internet service, again reducing costs by buying our own modem to avoid the monthly rental charges. We have cell phones through another company, and had been thinking that the land line was redundant anyway, and we love it now that we don’t get all those political and non-profit fundraising calls. I also apologize – again — to my sister and friends we forgot to notify about letting the phone go! (Oops!)

For years we have had the Comcast “Triple Play” – broadband cable, phone and internet. We’re not big TV watchers; it’s mostly a habit. Doug would usually turn the TV on around dinner time, and would start to watch a show, lose interest, and go off to another room and do something else; I could easily do without TV at all, but occasionally I become hooked on a program. After seeing our Comcast bill increase by about $10 a month over the last few months due to various changes in the bundle discounts, we decided the number had crossed the line from reasonable to ridiculous, and we began to look at other options.

After several phone calls to Comcast it was clear there was not much we could do to reduce the bill by more than a few dollars – not an acceptable solution. When everything is bundled, it seems the prices of the individual services are mysterious and exceedingly expensive. So, we terminated our cable TV and phone, saving us a whopping $100 a month.

We do enjoy watching some TV, though, and we bought a new TV just a year ago, so our solution was to purchase a Mac mini computer, which comes “a la carte” with no peripherals (meaning no monitor, keyboard or mouse). We hooked it up to our TV, and now we can watch our favorite TV shows through the computer. We already had an extra wireless mouse and we bought a wireless keyboard, so we can control the TV from our seats in the living room.  The investment in the mini computer will pay for itself in about six months.

I like it a lot. All of the networks provide programming of the shows we want to watch, so we’re really not missing anything, and we can watch at our convenience rather than scheduled program times. The biggest change is in how we watch the news. There are no streaming live news programs available – at least I haven’t found any yet. Instead of a news program, we scan the headlines and then select which stories we wish to know more about and either read it on the screen or click on the story’s video. The good part about being selective in the news stories we watch is that Doug doesn’t become furious at the political stuff that drives him crazy! It is still rather awkward for us to view the news this way, but it’s getting easier.

The best thing of all, though, was a complete surprise. We now spend time together reading! I have always been an avid reader, but Doug wasn’t. Over our years together, he gradually started reading when we traveled, and since some of our trips have been long, he has read quite a few good books. He has now decided that reading is a good thing!  With TV not quite so easy anymore, even though it’s there and sometimes we do choose to watch, we mostly will sit in the living room and talk and read. I recently finished reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, and now Doug has started it. What? We’re reading the same books and talking about them? I think I died and went to heaven.

Life is good!

A Christmas Gift, Three Years in the Making

The work area of my new space -- I love it.

I am the kind of person who gets a lot of ideas, many of which are grandiose and crazy – at least, that’s what my husband thinks. He cringes when he hears me say, “I have an idea . . .” because he knows it means he is going to have to build something or tear something apart to transform it into something else. He’s really very good natured about it all, though.

We moved into our present home in 2003; it’s very small, and I would do my school work at the kitchen table – grading student work, lesson planning, etc. Three years ago he agreed to my biggest idea yet: we could winterize our seldom-used one season porch and make it into an office for me. It’s a 12 x 12 foot space – plenty of room, with windows overlooking the yard and some of our garden areas. He got to work right away, replacing the old broken windows with new ones, and installing a new entry door to replace the screen door, since this would be the new entrance to our home.

That’s when we ran into trouble. In the winter, when deep snow covered the roof, the door wouldn’t open because the roof would sag. Work stopped while we figured out how to fix it in a way that would not only allow the door to open, but would also make the roof safe. The problem was compounded by the fact that the rafters also interfered with the door opening even when there was no snow. My husband is a very handy guy, but this problem was tough; he’s also not one to ask for help, so time passed and the cobwebs started to grow in the corners.

I tried to remain patient, but it was tough; I needed a work space! At one point, in frustration, I moved the kitchen table out of the house, bought a couple of two-drawer file cabinets and a ready-made countertop and turned the kitchen into a makeshift office. We ate in the living room. Still no solution to the door problem.

Last June, this is what it looked like! Yikes!

Then, a year ago, I visited my sister in Florida and discovered that she had a front door that opened to the outside. Aha!

We special ordered a new door, Doug was able to reinforce the roof fairly easily, and work (sort of) began again. Winter arrived, and it was just not possible to work out on the porch in the freezing cold.

By the time the ground thawed and the thermometer rose, all energy was focused on my retirement, scheduled for the end of the school year in June. The week I was officially retired, we started in on the renovations with new vigor. I cut and placed insulation in the walls – both the foam core and batts. Doug focused on the carpentry, putting up the bead board walls, bookshelves, and window trim. I painted everything as he worked.  Then we had another interruption: our vacation, our “Great Adventure” – the cross country journey we had been planning for nearly two years as the celebration of my retirement. We left the porch as neat as we could get it, and set out on what turned out to be a true great adventure lasting nearly three months.

We arrived home in October, and thankfully the weather remained warm enough that we could still work on the porch/office project. The climax of the work took place over a few days when Doug ventured up to the roof and removed the metal roofing, leaving the porch open to the sky. He placed foam core insulation which I had cut to size into the rafters, and batts on top of that. It was much easier to do this from the top down rather than struggling from the bottom up for several reasons. There was no ceiling, only rafters and metal roofing, and dripping condensation was a significant problem when it rained. We didn’t want to install the new ceiling before the insulation went in, and we had to fix the whole problem of moisture getting in there and ruining the new construction. Once the insulation was in place, new plywood went down, a layer of plastic and the metal roofing, which I had pressure washed. Fortunately we had no rain for the duration of that work!

Next , back inside now, the new ceiling went up, and the details of caulking, trim work, sanding, and painting moved the project forward.  We finished the room just in time for the Christmas tree to go up, and for the holiday snow village to be displayed in the curio cabinet, now out of the barn for the first time since 2003.

It was the best Christmas gift ever – my very own creative space. Office, art studio, reading room, library, whatever it might be called.

Life is good. Very good.

Some Things I Like About Retirement – and Some Things That Are Hard

I have officially been retired now for almost five months; the first four months hardly count, though, since we were super busy with a home renovation project and then on the road, traveling until late October. Plus as a retired teacher, having the summer off is routine, so nothing felt different.

Since we’ve been home I have luxuriated in getting up when I please, and even though 6:30 or 7:00 is still early, it’s a lot later than my previous wake up call at 5 a.m.  I don’t have to pay attention to whatever time I want to go to bed, and even though 9 p.m. has been a long term habit, I read longer and sometimes don’t turn out the light until 11:00. Having that freedom is a pleasure I notice on a regular basis.

Having more time is the next most noticeable thing. As a teacher I was overwhelmed and overworked most of the time; there was always grading to do, data to analyze, meetings to prepare for, lessons to plan, and much more, and time, that most precious of all commodities, was scarce. The days were never long enough and even on my own time I was working a lot. Now, that stress is completely gone and the days stretch out just waiting for me to decide how to fill them. Ahhh, such luxury!

The trim work still needs to be finished, and the ceiling needs paint, but it's really almost done!

We’re still working on my office, but it’s nearly done, I have actually put all of my gardens to bed properly for the winter for the first time ever, I have read several books for pleasure, and I take the time to plan and cook much healthier meals. And the best part is that not only does that list go on, but I get to decide. That might sound weird, but as a teacher, there is little to no discretionary time; life is ruled by the clock. Class schedules are paramount, meetings start promptly, and deadlines hang over one’s head, always.

And so, that brings me to the part that I find hard: having more time and deciding what to do. (Isn’t it interesting when the positives are also the same as the negatives?) When one doesn’t have many choices during a work day, having no structure at all is a significant change. I have always been one of those people who functions most efficiently under the pressure of deadlines, and in the last month I’ve missed appointments, or been late (things I abhor!), and generally feel like I’m floundering on a strange shore. The irregularity of my blog articles is proof of this; I used to make time every weekend to write, and now a weekend doesn’t hold the same kind of importance, so procrastination takes hold.

I’m not stressed about this floundering, though; I know that eventually everything will settle in and I’ll find a rhythm. A blog I follow (Adventure Retirement) speaks of this often. I’m thankful to have that reassurance, and I have a friend, already retired for a year, who uses Sundays to plan the week ahead, which obviously provides a basic structure to follow.

I know I’ll get to a good place. The good things far outweigh any difficulties, and I love it that I can enjoy time, the company of good friends, and stopping to smell the roses — or the Thanksgiving turkey.

Life is good.