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:

Soaring 

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 flickr.com: sunset geese by Scorpions and Centaurs

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.

The First Gig: Time Zone Warp

My bedside companions -- can I do without the time?

It’s been a few days now since I interrupted my “Great Adventure” by returning home to do a workshop for new teachers in my former school district; it was the first session of what will be a series. It was a quick and crazy experience, and an interesting one. Our Great Adventure has been truly great – my husband, two dogs and I are traveling in a small motor home, with my little Chevy Malibu on a tow dolly bringing up the rear. We set out from New Hampshire on July 28, headed west, so we’ve been on the road exactly one month today!

Last Monday, I boarded a plane in Salt Lake City to return home – a business trip in the middle of a vacation, how weird. I didn’t think it would be a big deal – a day on each side for travel, and two days at home. The workshop part was fine, but the actual traveling delivered a blow I didn’t anticipate: jet lag!

Just before we arrived in Salt Lake City, we had attended the land speed trials at the Bonneville Speedway in Wendover, Utah: Mountain Time Zone. We were staying at a campground in West Wendover, Nevada: Pacific Time Zone. It was crazy – we set some clocks to one time zone, and others to the other, but we never really knew which one we were in at any given moment. The two places were only ten miles apart and for whatever unknown reason we pretty much functioned in Pacific Time. Then we drove back east to Salt Lake so that I could put the final touches on my presentation and get packed. Since it was my first gig as an Educational Consultant, I wanted everything to be as perfect as possible; yes, I confess to being a perfectionist.

My plane left at noon on Monday, and landed in Phoenix where I had about an hour’s layover for the next flight which would take me directly to New Hampshire. Phoenix is in the Pacific Time Zone, so I felt the need to adjust my mental watch again. I grabbed some lunch while I waited, and then boarded the next flight, but I had no sense of knowing what time it was; it was like my internal clock was just out of order. Although it was bumpy – apparently flying in and out of Phoenix is always bumpy because of the heat – it was a relatively uneventful flight. We landed in Manchester around 10:00 p.m., taking eleven hours for a six hour flight – that time zone thing again. I got my rental car (since my own car was in Utah!), and arrived home about midnight.

But my body was still functioning in another time zone, so it was after 1:00 a.m. before I got to sleep, and when I woke up at 9:00 I felt rested. I figured great, a solid eight hours of sleep should do the trick, and I headed down to the school district office to check in and take care of some paperwork. It was lovely to be home for this intermission, and I enjoyed a quick visit with a friend, spent time with my stepdaughter in the afternoon, wrote a blog article, then had some more preparations to make for my presentation. I never got sleepy, though, and it was midnight when my head hit the pillow, but I set my alarm for 5:30 because I wanted to have a good breakfast and be ready in plenty of time for my morning session.

I vaguely remember the alarm going off, and I jolted when I rolled over to discover that it was 7:44. I had planned on arriving at the school district offices at 7:30! Oh, no!

I left a path of destruction in my wake as I rushed to dress and get my things together. Got a phone call on my way from the assistant superintendent, who reassured me that it would be OK; she even met me at the door with a cup of coffee!

I did have a margin of time before I was scheduled to being the training, and by then I had calmed down and was mentally alert and ready to go. Loving the material certainly helps, too; it was easy to enjoy myself as I seamlessly put my “teacher hat” back on for a few hours. Then I was done, went home, and ended up taking a two-hour nap. (I never take naps!) The training went very well, and I have been scheduled for additional sessions later in the school year. Yay!

The next day I HAD to be up so that I could catch my early flight back to Salt Lake City. I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. and put it on the loudest setting, and since my brain knew how important it was to get up on time, it turned out fine. I was right on schedule to return the rental car and check in at the airport. Flight took off on time, and my layover this time was in Las Vegas: Pacific Time. We arrived at 9:00 a.m.; I had now been up for nine hours (it was noon at home), and needed some lunch, but it was still breakfast time there and I felt like I had been sucked into a science fiction movie. The layover there was three hours, I found a seat at the gate, nibbled on a package of salted pecans (my favorite guilty pleasure), sipped a caramel latte, and read my book.

When I arrived back in Salt Lake City, it felt like I was home. But how could it feel like home when I had just left home and arrived at such a distant location?  And what time is it, anyway?

Now that a few more days have passed, I’m ensconced back in Mountain Time, and we’re on our way to Capital Reef National Park. The journey to New Hampshire was a crazy and fun interruption of this Great Adventure, but I’m glad to be back with my husband and dogs. I’m glad I don’t have to travel between time zones on a regular basis. One friend gave me great advice upon my return: “Go to the nearest river, take your watch off, fling it in the general direction of the water, and say “to hell with it, I’m on vacation!”

Life is good.