She no longer earned a salary
Or laid out the next day’s outfits
All so very color coordinated: Blouse, earrings, the shoes on her feet.
The office was no longer her thing.

But that did not mean
She no longer had worth.
There are other ways
Of making a contribution.

Figuring out just exactly what that entailed.
That was the real challenge.
Not knowing the answers just yet
Did not mean they weren’t there to be had.

The alarm ruled my days
And SAT/SUN were my carrots.
They were devoured, yet savored.
Required tasks done quickly
In order to yield maximum downtime.
Books to read, walks to enjoy, relaxation = joy.

Now, my own time spreads out before me
Like a vast ocean.
I’m sailing uncharted seas.
An entirely new paradigm.
Rather than peering forward, slogging through five for two places of rest,
Time = Islands = Respite
No longer applies.

I can do what I wish to now.
Later, there may be other, different carrots to propel me forward, through my days.
But for now, I no longer seek ‘land’ on the horizon to get my bearings.
The dimension of time now provides a new perspective.
Opportunities abound,
And I continue to wrap my head around the possibilities.

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Effective March 15th, I become a Free Woman. I am retiring!! More time to pursue photography, crochet, Adventures in Cooking, Adventures in Baking, hiking, biking, writing and blogging. No pesky office job to interfere with beautiful days perfect for driving along back roads to snap photos such as this or to explore the latest art exhibits or to cultivate container herbs and spices out on the deck. Early morning walks, reading in a comfy chair sitting in the sun with a hot chai or cup of tea, lazy afternoons relaxing with a few gel pens and a coloring book, getting up close and personal with bike trails, state parks, museums and music events, plays, wineries, binging on Netflix — the opportunities are countless and oh, so far-ranging!

A friend who retired a few years ago told me the first thing she did was to catch up on her sleep. So that might just be an option as well. It’s an overused phrase but, truly, this will be a whole new chapter. I began working in my early 20’s and aside from semester breaks as a non-traditional student, the last time I truly had time just for me was, well, probably never!

The countdown in days (not months!) starts NOW….

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It’s difficult to imagine anything more beautiful, more invigorating, more uplifting than the glow of autumn-induced sunshine. Last week I walked through the woods at midday and was delighted with the dreamy, mellow light sifting through the trees and foliage. These benches here, haphazardly arranged in a small clearing, were soaking it all in. I was transfixed.

Today, during my lunch break, I took a short stroll around the neighborhood with a clear sky overhead and a mildly vigorous breeze. The air felt fantastic and the sun’s warming rays enveloped and caressed both my body and my mood. Truly, I did not want to go back inside. Oh, how retirement beckons!

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One month from today is my birthday. I turn 59 this year. And then next year, of course, I’ll be sixty. (How did that happen?) February 26, 2017 will usher in a brand new decade for me, a hastening in the decline – already well underway – of what I’m both physically and sometimes mentally able to do. Certainly, a march toward death to be perfectly blunt about it.

Actually, though, I’m not one to rant and rave or opine – to no good outcome, in any case, so what would be the point? – about what is ultimately inevitable. Like many people my age and even older, I don’t feel ‘this old’. True, my body often conspires against those delights in which my heart and soul would otherwise love to partake. And sometimes, I say ‘body, be damned’ and I’ll go ahead and do what I want to anyway. Maybe not easily or elegantly or with grace. Certainly not without paying a price for it the next day (queue the Icy Hot and ibuprofen). The thing is, though, that is what’s cool about getting older. You don’t really care (as much anyway) about appearances as when you’re younger.

In any case, retirement becomes more of a focus. Most people in their fifties begin thinking about Life After Work and I’ve been no exception. But now, with the Big 6-0 only a year away, I’m starting to think more seriously than ever about what I want to do when I retire. I’ve posted on this topic before but today, with my 59th birthday one month away, the reality of this new stage of my life (yet to come) is now a little more clear, a little more urgent, a little more REAL. And this both terrifies and thrills me.

Being a Cradle Robber, I’m fortunate in that my husband will continue to work once I retire and therefore cover my health insurance needs until Medicare kicks in. I hope to acquire a little four legged friend with fur to accompany me on long walks and hikes and bike rides. I look forward to playing the role of Just a Housewife and welcoming Bill home from work with hot and healthy meals and the occasional dessert (those who know my husband are well aware of his almost unquenchable appetite for sweets so I’ll need to exercise some caution with my Adventures in Baking).

I’ll read. I’ll write. I’ll color. I’ll blog. I’ll have time to exercise and eat right. I’ll sleep in if I want to or get up while it’s still dark out and get my walk in for the day. Certainly, I’ll indulge my passion for photography. I’ll experiment in the kitchen and keep the house clean, uncluttered and organized. In the winter, I’ll crochet and in the summer I’ll ride my bike. I’ll probably even get a part-time job, both for a little mad money and to keep my social skills current and, hopefully, up to par. These are things that I’ll do – for me. And I’ll glory in the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want.

I’m not naïve or star struck enough to think retirement will be all rainbows and roses. Things Change.  Life Happens.  But whether I’m working or not, this would continue to be the case regardless. Time and having more of it to do as we please (as we march forward) is that currently elusive animal that I long for, that I crave. And just as I savor the joy of planning a vacation or a weekend getaway, so, too, do I eagerly anticipate the liberation of being daily accountable to an entity other than myself: Work. Sometimes gratifying (and the money is nice), work is no longer the be-all, end-all (if ever it really, truly was) of my existence, of what is ultimately most important to me, to my life, to our marriage. Knowing that I plan to retire in the not so distant future makes it easier to deal with the sometime frustration of meetings, deadlines and difficult co-workers. Because now I know that work really is just a means to an end. We all need money to pay the bills (and plan for our retirements!) Work can also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. All well and good. But the allure has begun to tarnish and I now seek other avenues of pride, pleasure, fulfillment and release.

With anything in life, there are no guarantees. For all my planning and daydreaming and list-making, the longed-for freedom to live a fulfilling life after retirement may not transpire. Sickness, disability, financial burdens, family emergencies can easily wreak havoc on my future in one fell swoop and swiftly (and oh, so cruelly) undo all that I’ve hoped for. So while I’m able to, I’ll continue to chart my path toward that which I covet and nurture my spirit as best I can to deal with whatever comes my way. I’m incredibly blessed and fortunate to have a husband who loves and cherishes me and we are both in fairly good health. Financially – for now, so long as the market cooperates! – we’re in a good place. All we can do is plan for our future and hope for the best.

Full speed ahead!

Last night, while waiting for the clerk to wind some yarn for me, my husband and I walked around Valley Junction to stretch our legs. This area contains several unique shops and historical buildings and is a fun place to explore. It was just starting to get dark and the shop windows illuminated the walkways. Although I’ve been there many times before, I’d never noticed this old barbershop and dug out the point-and-shoot Canon Elph I carry in my purse. I took a shot through the window but decided to step inside for a better vantage point. The place was empty and I wondered if the shop was even open. Quietly, I opened the screen door (!!) and walked inside.

After taking a few shots, an elderly gentleman walked in from the a darkened room at the back of the store. I asked if he was the owner and did he mind if a took a few photos? Not at all, he was happy to oblige. We then chatted for several minutes and I learned that he’d been the sole proprietor there for 42 years. It was a fun and interesting conversation. Kevin is 70 years old and hopes to continue his barbershop business until he’s 77. That’s the age his own father was when he retired. His dad worked in construction all his life and Kevin once him he hoped to work until he was that same age as well. He reasoned that if his father could work that long doing something as physically taxing as construction, certainly he could fare as well – and for as long – as a barber cutting hair!

Kevin agreed to allow me to return to his shop anytime to take more photos. My little Elph is a great tool to keep on hand for the ‘unexpected’ but I look forward to coming back with the Big Boys to try for something a little more creative. All in all, it was a very pleasant encounter.

I’m cranky.

There. I’ve said it. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t really explain it, but since we got back from our wonderfully relaxing vacation in Colorado last week I’m in a mood. First day back I felt GREAT! Isn’t life fantastic? Lots of energy, sleeves rolled up, told husband I felt like I had my mojo back.

And then it all went south.

My first thought was that perhaps my foul demeanor was due to the change in elevation. Many of the trails we hiked in the Rocky Mountains brought us higher, ever higher, our lungs expanding in the thin air and our hearts pounding like jackhammers in our chests. One day last week we stood at a high point along the Trail Ridge Road where we towered over everything else around us at more than 12,000 feet, wind howling and bellowing, it seemed, from every direction. But now, here we are, back in the lowlands of the Midwest (Des Moines, elevation 958) and my poor body has no idea what to do with all this extra, heavier, moisture-laden air. While in Estes Park we pretty much ate what we wanted but came back at our pre-vacation fighting weights, thanks to all the hiking we did. Stuck in ‘pig-out’ mode, we’ve maintained the same eating habits so maybe that’s a contributor as well to said crankiness.

But when I ponder this further I think I know the answer. In Colorado, for one glorious week, we knew FREEDOM. We did pretty much whatever we damned well pleased and never (well, hardly ever) gave work more than a glancing thought or two. Monday morning when the alarm clock went off at five-twenty, it was truly a rude awakening and an evil reminder that our time, now, was no longer ours to call our own.

Sing it Soul II Soul: Back to life, back to reality!

Bill and I have taken very few trips longer than a three or four day weekend. This time we were away from work for ten whole days. That’s a long time to get used to being on your own schedule, being master of your minutes and hours and days. I loved it! But oh how cruel having to return to the workaday world after such a carefree existence as that which enveloped us in Colorado. Perhaps it’s because retirement isn’t really that far off but this little ‘vacay’ of ours has just made it seem even more tantalizing than ever before. I want it and I do, yes, want it now. The harsh, financial vagaries of life, however, intrude.

The state-run lottery here has a slogan that urges folks to buy tickets by (not so?) gently reminding them that you can’t win big bucks if you don’t play the game. So please excuse me while I, ahem, make a quick run to the nearest convenience store.

Retirement has been a recurring theme here on my blog as well as in some of my Facebook posts and conversations with friends, family and co-workers. Most of the time my husband Bill and I are just living our lives, going about our business and only occasionally do we think about retiring like when I’m updating the Excel spreadsheet I created a couple of years ago to track our progress. Now and then an article will catch my eye and I’ll get to thinking, all dreamy-eyed and such, about what it will be like to quit working and begin retirement in earnest. And now twice today I’ve been reminded yet again why this is such an interesting and important topic of conversation for us.

My husband and I are both at that age where if you aren’t thinking about retirement you seriously should be. It’s important to plan for this next phase of life both financially and emotionally.

Financially – unless the bottom drops out of the stock market – I believe we’re on solid ground. After many years of debt and no savings whatsoever I began saving earnestly and ferociously once I began my career after graduating in 1995 with my MIS degree from Iowa State University in an attempt to make up for lost time and lost opportunities.

Bill and I have no debt other than our mortgage and we are prodigious savers. We’ve been fortunate but we have also worked very hard and we have (hopefully!) made good choices about our finances to get us to where we are today. No one can predict the future but making the right decisions about how to get from Point A to Point B are imperative if one hopes to live well and comfortably in their golden years.

With all that due diligence out of the way let’s commence to the fun stuff!

Reminder #1: My sister called today to tell me about a visit she made to the health club yesterday where she and I are both members. It was an early morning swim on her day off and she saw a large group of what she assumed were retirees getting into the pool for a fun aqua workout class. She said it made her think of me and she now understood for the first time why it might just be nice to retire. I completely agree. To have the freedom to do the things you want to do without the nuisance and inconvenience of having to show up for work each and every day sounds heavenly to me. Don’t get me wrong. I like my job, I have a fantastic boss and I enjoy learning new skills and becoming more well-informed about the business as I take on new projects and work initiatives. And making money? Well, that’s pretty darn nice too of course.

It’s just that the alternative is SO much more appealing. It would be even more so if I could retire AND continue to pull in the money every two weeks. Not likely to happen so I’ll content myself with the wonderful prospect of all that free time when I retire to claim as my very own!

This might be a good time to point out that my husband is five and half years younger than me. I plan to retire early (I ain’t getting any younger and I want to relish and enjoy a life of leisure while I’m still relatively healthy). I can fall under my husband’s health insurance until Medicare kicks in and by then (again – hoping the Dow continues her upward trend!) Bill can retire as well.

Reminder #2: A friend posted a wonderful blurb on Facebook this afternoon stating one of the things she loved about getting older was the fearlessness that (my input here) most but not all people are able to harness from somewhere deep inside themselves. She’d talked to a woman in her early 60’s who had been planning a train trip to Canada. Unfortunately each of the friends who had planned to accompany her dropped out and decided not to go. Instead of cancelling the trip the friend decided to go anyway. She toured Canada by way of Amtrak, all by her lonesome, and despite the initial awkwardness said it was the best trip she’d ever taken.

This, my friends, is exactly the approach I hope to exhibit when I retire. Indeed, it’s how I want to live my life RIGHT NOW. Stepping outside our comfort zone can be a scary thing and while the outcome may not live up to our expectations the flip side is that it may just wildly exceed them! We never know until we try.

And now I’m pumped up again and more committed than ever to building up our retirement reserves and emotionally (and yes, realistically as well) planning for this next stage of my life. Life is good now, yes, it is. I am in no hurry to grow older – no one is – but I’m one of those people who enjoys planning adventures and who loves, even more, having them! I want our retirement to be lovely, comforting, nurturing and exhilarating as hell. With continued planning and foresight, a smidgeon of good luck and a kick-ass attitude I’m cautiously optimistic it will be all of those things – and maybe more!

After a much-delayed start in financially planning for my own retirement my husband and I both appear to be on a solid path. Flexibility is key and like most everyone concerned with their retirement years there are unknowns for which we are hopefully prepared to address. Health care is obviously the biggest concern as well as an unwelcome stock market crash that could send everything spiraling downward. But for now, all systems are GO and we continue to keep putting money away to help ensure a financially worry-free retirement.

An equally important component of retirement planning is deciding how we want to spend our time once we are no longer gainfully employed. Having a plan in place for what it is we that want to do is perhaps just as critical as amassing the nest egg required to support whatever lifestyle we choose to embark upon once we retire.

With my anticipated retirement date just a few years down the road (more or less!) I’ve given much thought to how I want to fill my days and enjoy life at that time – the true ultimate goal.

I’m always a little surprised to hear some folks say they don’t ever want to retire. They think they’ll be bored or maybe find themselves unfulfilled somehow. I suppose, for me, that’s a distinct possibility but all the more reason to think long and hard about what it is that I want to do and what I want for my life. The interesting side effect to this self-evaluation is that I came to realize what is truly important is the journey itself and not just getting to that longed for day when I actually retire. That is, rather than thinking about all the things I want to do once I retire I need to live my life TODAY and enjoy those activities now as well. Retirement, once she’s here, will simply allow more time and freedom – given ample and sufficient financial planning! – to be able to fully enjoy all the many things we want to do with our time.

Therein, however, lies the catch. The ‘gotcha’. We want to also be healthy enough to participate in our chosen activities – travel, golf, photography, adventures in cooking, adventures in baking, target shooting, bicycling, hiking, swimming and catching up on all those books I’ve yet to read. Maybe do some volunteer work or take a class or two at our local community college. A part-time job is also on the agenda – at outlet for interacting with people a few hours a week and earning a little mad money in the process. Yes, all these things and hopefully good health and vitality to make them all a reality.

Travel is probably, as for most people, the number one goal. Life wasn’t always easy for my parents but thankfully the last several years of their lives together Mom and Dad did quite a bit of traveling. The first trip they took together was to Mackinac Island and I was enchanted with their descriptions of this lovely, lovely place. We traveled there three years ago and our visit was everything I imagined and then some. It was wonderfully peaceful and relaxing and I’d go again in a heartbeat.

Our travel bucket list continues to grow and it’s sadly not realistic to think we’ll have the time, funds and good health to visit every single destination. Oktoberfest in Germany. Scotland, England and Ireland. A cruise down the river Rhine. Scandanavia. Italy. France. Istanbul. New Zealand. And not just foreign travel either. Here in the US there is New England, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Door County, Washington DC, Napa Valley, Alaska and Hawaii. There’s also Nova Scotia and the Panama Canal and all the island destinations in the Caribbean. Just so much to see and do in this world!

In the end there are no guarantees in this life. We have all read or heard the stories of people who became ill and die or are incapacitated shortly after they retire. Conversely there are folks who save vigorously thinking they need a set amount of funds (and in the process not savoring life along the way) and wait far too long to ever enjoy the fruits of their efforts. All that we can do is strive to live healthy lives, stay active now, plan for the future and be prepared to tweak those plans should the need arise.

What is your retirement philosophy? Are you counting the months and years until you bid farewell to your job or do you want to work right up until the end? What are you looking forward to? I’d love to hear what other folks are thinking about. What’s on YOUR bucket list?

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Travel and discovery with exposure to new places, activities, people and ideas — these things are the heart and core of what makes a person feel alive.

Part of what I want to accomplish with this new blogging adventure is a means of chronicling where I come from, where I’ve been, what envelopes me today and where I want to go in the future, not the least of which is the topic of retirement.

When we’re young we think of retirement as something old people do and it might as well be light years away to our 20-year-old / 30-year-old perspectives. We hit our 40’s and if/when we even start to contemplate retirement we begin to think “Hey, maybe this is something I should start thinking about. Maybe even plan for.” Our perspective morphs into something entirely different than our earlier years. The Big 5-0 rolls around and with it a bit of yearning perhaps or maybe a sense of urgency depending on how well we’ve heeded the admonishments of our financial advisors or parents or other well-meaning kin to save for the future. As for our 60’s let’s just say I’ll leave well enough alone at this point. Twenties, thirties, forties — been there, done that. Fifites? I’m workin’ on it.

The thing that fascinates me is how my perspectives have evolved over time — on many subjects certainly — but on retirement in particular. Work now serves as a means to an end. Strike that, reverse it. That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it, to use the word ‘end’ when we are talking about what many of us hope are our glory years. I prefer a new beginning or the much clichéd next chapter or perhaps reinventing ourselves. In any case, the crucial balance lies between obtaining the means to maintain a fruitful retirement and preserving ourselves well enough so we have the health and wherewithal in which enjoy it.

It’s all in one’s perspective.