Sunday, January 31, 2010

I'm thinking about domestic travel today.

We've been doing home exchanges for years now - we've traded houses with families in England, Washington DC, Georgia and Toronto. Plus we own three timeshares which, while we were still working, we sometimes couldn't use - right now we're two behind and three current, so we have five timeshare weeks we need to use in the next year. Also, we're due for a schooner cruise off the coast of Maine - we've been on that trip three times and we love it - six days in the waters of Penobscot Bay, with 30 passengers and 8 crew, helping to sail the schooner, eating home cooked food and enjoying the companionship of folks from all over the country - plus a lobster feed one evening on a deserted island.

So I'm looking at the year starting June 25, 2010, my last day of work. We'll do the schooner in August or September - depending on what I can find in Maine or thereabouts in either a home exchange or a timeshare week. Already I've got conversations going with a couple who have homes in Sedona and Maine and who've invited us to stay with them one night in Maine when we go back there for the cruise. And we have two sets of friends who live in Maine who've invited us to spend a few days with them.

What an opportunity! For the first time, I can go to the home exchange site and send out offers for members in Maine. Meanwhile I can look at timeshare exchanges that come up for two groups we belong to. When we've found what looks good I'll make our schooner reservations, so we can do it all in one trip. And this year, we can drive if we want, rather than flying. We can do a road trip! Or not.

We've got only one constraint. We have an organic garden that we harvest in mid-September, so we need to be there for that.

But it's not a work constraint. And that is wonderful.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Art had hand surgery yesterday. I spent most of the day at the hospital and the rest at home with him. He'll be on painkillers for the first few days. Today I worked from home. I've thought about the times he's had surgeries, and the times I have, and how each of us watches out for the other. It's a good feeling to have another person around.

I told Art I'd be doing more of the cooking when I'm no longer working. This will be a big change, as he's been the cook for most of our 17 years together. He likes to cook, and I had enough years doing it as a single mom for two boys that it's not very rewarding for me. But there's something about spending time in the kitchen with good smells, steam rising from pots and the scatter of ingredients that almost feels virtuous. Eating out is something we've done a lot of recently, and our reduced income in retirement means more meals at home. So I'm looking forward to finding ways for it to be fun.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Today is my husband Art's last day at work. He is having hand surgery tomorrow morning to relieve the pain of arthritis in his thumb. After recovery and physical therapy he will be retiring at age 67. Art has been an electrical worker for 40 years. He has called me twice today - an unusual occurrence indeed - to tell me about going out to breakfast AND lunch with his crew, and how his supervisor said goodbye. There will be a retirement party in May, but today is the Last Day.

The Bag Lady is quiet today. She honors Art's career and his readiness to trade in past years of paid service to the local community for upcoming years of volunteer service, traveling, gardening, reading and learning - for whatever sounds like a good idea. And I have a "honey do" list in my head for the upcoming weeks during his recovery from surgery - the only requirement for a task is that Art not need his left hand to do it. For a couple of months, probably.

Our current budget has a line item for the gym ($52 a month for the two of us) and an item for circuit training ($120 a month for the two of us). This morning I checked out Senior Sneakers, a conditioning/fitness/strength training program offered at our local rec center for people over 60. It will be free for Art on Medicare and $3 a session for me. If we do the program three days a week - walking the two miles to the rec center and then back home - we'll be able to maintain and improve our fitness for much less money, and we'll have trainers and instructors who specialize in working with people 60 and over.

A good idea, I think. There was a time when I would have shied away from "senior" activities, but two years ago I ruptured my Achilles tendon working out with a young personal trainer. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but I think he might have overestimated the strength and elasticity of a 59-year-old Achilles tendon doing a lunge. Art and I want to stay active and fit, but using good judgment. So Senior Sneakers may be a good solution for us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'd been thinking one reason to leave work before I'm 65 is that my husband Art is five years older than me. Why work longer and then have fewer years afterwards to enjoy life and travel with him?

In the last week, though, I had a health scare. My vision changed suddenly one evening last week, and the changes lasted for days. I finally got a diagnosis this morning from an opthalmologist: vitreous detachment. It's a very common, normal part of the aging process. But in the days between its onset and today, it was frightening.

So another reason to leave work before I'm 65 is for myself, for my own enjoyment of life and travel. Seeing each day as fresh and full of possibilities. Enjoying whatever might come along.

I wouldn't say I'm glad for this experience, but I am glad for the learning!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today in our team meeting at work I told my colleagues that, unless something changes, my last day of work will be June 25, 2010. I'm part of a four-year, 280-client conversion project that was scheduled to complete in January 2012. Before the holidays, I had told the teammate I walk with at lunch that if the project was moved up to finish a year early I might stay on until the last conversion.

I heard at the meeting today the project may be moved up to finish in April 2011 - not a year early, but almost.

My walking buddy said, "That's finishing up a lot sooner than January 2012. Would you stay?"

I said, "Nope."

I didn't even have to think about it.

[I wrote this last May. I had the fears back then, but also an experience that got me started thinking differently.]

Three weeks ago I finally asked HP (Higher Power) to give me insights on what to do. Then, when we were traveling in Turkey, two of my fellow travelers talked about how retirement was for them. And last Monday our financial planner said we're funded for retirement to live about like we do now. Still, I've been so fearful about finances I woke up in the middle of the night and said, "She doesn't know what she's talking about." This financial planner has been working with us for 15 years and she knows us and she knows our numbers. Of course she knows what she's talking about!

Here's a story about fear. I have always been afraid of heights. I knew when we were in Turkey in April on a Rick Steves tour that there would be an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride. I had no interest in that AT ALL. Then, on the plane between Seattle and Amsterdam, I watched Jim Carrey's movie "Yes Man", about this guy who had a boring life because he always said no. He went to a seminar about saying yes and decided to always say yes. Needless to say, he had funny, crazy things happen, but his life got much better.

So on the first day of the tour, our Turkish guide said, "If you're considering taking the balloon ride, sign up." So I signed up for me and my husband Art. Then, four days later, when we were in Cappadocia, the guide said, "The balloon guy will be downstairs tonight at 5, for those of you who want to sign up." Remembering Jim, I signed us up.

I thought in a hot air balloon you'd go up high and hang there in the sky for an hour, thinking about how far down you'd fall if you fell out, or if the balloon popped and you fell. That didn't appeal to me at all. But that's not how it works. You drift gently, silently up. Then over the countryside. The pilot has a LOT of control over the balloon. We were sometimes ten feet above lovely hillside fields, descended into valleys with fantastic geological formations and old cave houses and lifted quietly out of them. There were a couple of times when we were too high for my comfort, so I looked down at my feet during that time.

What I learned from this experience is that if I leave my job, or if I rely upon HP - in other words, if I say "yes", it's not going to be a high, terrifying flight - it's going to be full of possibilities for new exploration, for spending time on my interests and passions, for being of service. Maybe a part-time job, maybe volunteerism, maybe trading houses with another family for a year, maybe joining Americorps.

If I say "no", I get to stay on the ground and never change how I look at the world.

January 22, 2010

We’re in our second week of a two-week visit to Sedona. We come here every other year in January to get out of the Pacific Northwest weather. In Week One the weather was seasonably comfortable – sunny, with temps in the upper 50s during the day. Art and I took four short hikes in the red rock country. I was gratified to confirm I still love to hike – though I’m still afraid to walk on a trail where there’s a drop-off to one side. Those cliff magnets are alive and well, waiting for their moment to suck me over the edge.

On Monday it started to rain and I came down with a bad cold. It is now Friday, the rain alternates with snow, and my cold is coming along as I expected. Arizona has experienced record rainfall this week, plus tornado warnings and, last night, a flood warning in Sedona. We’d been advised by the resort that we might be evacuated to the hotel up the hill. Oak Creek is 20 yards from our back patio. We watched throughout the evening as the water rose. Each of us packed a bag we could take. I was not fearful at all. We had a plan and I knew we could carry it out. In the early morning hours, the flood warning was cancelled, so we never got the knock on the door or the phone call from the authorities.

Why does an actual physical flood warning not bother me? Why do I say, when I catch a cold, “Oh, well, I’ll be uncomfortable for a couple of days and I’ll be fine within a week”? These are real events, and I take them in stride. But when Bag Lady says, “You don’t have enough money to ever retire”, I freeze up in fear. She and the cliff magnets must be buddies.

January 21, 2010

I’m having a bag lady day in my mind.

It’s mostly about money, I’m thinking. Though my friend Sharon says my bag lady is a state of mind, that I’m actually carrying baggage from my past that causes my logical thinking to freeze up from time to time.

My mind’s bag lady wakes up when I have a conversation about finances with retired friends. I’ve tracked every item in our budget for years, so I know where we can cut costs without affecting our lifestyle. For example, I’ve had a triple tall mocha espresso nearly every morning for ten years. At $3.50 a day, that’s an item that can be replaced by a coffeemaker on our kitchen sink. And if we find we don’t use the local gym once we’ve stopped working, we can cancel our membership. As it is now, we keep that membership active because you never know when we might be in the mood to go to the gym. I can pare down our expenses, line item by line item. On the other hand, I buy most of my clothes from Chico’s and LLBean. I know I won’t need as many when I’m no longer working, but I don’t want to switch to shopping at WalMart and Value Village. Embarrassing, but true.

Another piece of my bag lady’s thoughts is my age. At 61, even if I want to return to the work world, I might not be able to find a job - either in my field or elsewhere. Or maybe the only thing I’ll be able to find is work as a receptionist in a hair salon - my nightmare of the worst job in the world.

What if I give up a job I know well, with its attendant good salary and benefits, then find I should have stayed there for another three-plus years until I’m 65 and eligible for full pension benefits and Medicare? It would be safer, for sure. My husband Art and I have decided to live for the next three years on his three pensions and a small percentage of our investments. We haven’t ever lived under these circumstances, or on this amount of money. And I have never been financially dependent on him. What will that look like, and how will it feel?

“The experts” differ on how much of our pre-retirement income we’ll need after we stop working. Estimates I’ve read vary between 70 and 120 percent. I’m hoping it’s closer to 70.

January 20, 2010

I’m afraid of heights - and of being a bag lady.

I’m quitting my job on June 25 of this year, after 20 years with this company and another 10 or so before that working other places. The world of work is familiar – my way of being useful and of bringing home the money for my life. But my work mantra today – and for most days for the past year – is, “I’m done.”

I am so ready for the no-alarm awakenings and open days, for the exploration of new interests. Everyone I know who’s already retired says I’ll love it.

But I am also scared. What if I get bored? Usually, by the end of a two-week vacation, I’m ready to get back to work, to my scheduled days and crammed to-do list. Time on my hands sometimes leads to ponderings about the meaning of life and mortality and a vague wish I’d taken some other road on my life’s journey – without the slightest idea of what that road might have been, and without any significant disenchantment with the path I actually traveled. What if that happens and I have no reassuring morning destination to muffle my mental quests?

It’s like I’m on the precipice of the next part of my life journey. And, as I said, I’m afraid of heights.

This bag lady business is weird. My friends say it’s impossible I could ever become a bag lady. I’ve got too much energy, they say – too many interests, too much enthusiasm. Besides, they remind me, I’ve planned the finances of quitting work so completely - witness innumerable spreadsheet scenarios all attesting to a reasonable degree of financial security. You don’t have to worry about being a bag lady, my friends assure me, chuckling.

Still, I’m afraid of heights. And of being bag lady.

Over the next 365 days I’ll be in exploration mode.