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Archive for the ‘Retirement Issues’ Category

Remember looking up words in a Dictionary? I have always loved the ancillary words and pictures that catch the eye while flipping through to look up . . . say. . . “digress.” Hmm, ” Adzuki bean”. . . I saw that last week when I was looking up shelf lives. . . think it was 15 years. . . what IS an adzuki bean anyway?. . . “Bridalveil” as one word. . . YES!. . . it IS the falls at Yosemite. . . so ethereal and beautiful. . . and the unforgettable sound it makes. . . oops. . . “dill pickle”. . . too far. . . . of course I know what a dill pickle is, but I wonder what the dictionary says . . . keep going. . . ah yes. . . “to stray from the main subject in writing or speaking.”

Using a dictionary is like taking a car ride on an unknown scenic road. The colorful scenes flashing by add texture and dimension to the journey. There is something to look at on the way, making the trip more interesting.

If you’re reading this, you are probably using Encarta or one of the other wonderful online dictionaries that also pronounce the words for you. Looking up all of the phonetic symbols to determine pronunciation has never been one of my favorite digressions. I like being able to press the button over and over hoping that this time it will firmly implant. (I am not going to digress on multiple acceptable pronunciations. Getting it in the ballpark is my goal. Someone else can deal with the subtle nuances of the rules of that game.)

Using an online dictionary is a car trip using a GPS. There is a voice to keep us focused on the destination. There are no serendipitous diversions on this journey and even the side trips are decisions. If we misspell “digres”, we are asked, “did you mean digress?” It’s underlined and in one click we are there. If it’s a monumental misspelling, we might even get several possible “did you mean?” destinations. This is all very well and good if in a hurry, but I would hate to have missed dill pickle and Bridalveil. It is so nice to have (and to take) the time to do both.

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When you are working every day and driving and are busy or BUSY or the BUSIEST of busy, it doesn’t pay to beat yourself into a guilt frenzy over the state of cabinets, closets or drawers. You tell yourself that someday you’ll get to it. Someday was this Tuesday.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’ve always been fascinated by archeological tells: “A term that originates from the Near East, a tell is a synonym for the archaeological term mound site. Mound sites are mounds that formed through successive occupation of the same spot over a very extended period of time. Tells can provide a unique key to answering questions of occupation and evolution.” Individuals often create personal tells. Garage, basement, closet, drawers (especially junk) and kitchen cabinets come to mind.

Not wanting to risk burn out, I tackled only one set of revolving kitchen cabinets containing an assortment of baking goods, mixing bowls, measuring things and coffee stuff. The mixes with “use by” dates were a piece of cake. (Sorry.) But an unopened box of Corn Starch dated 2005? Curiosity sent me to a Corn Starch shelf life page highlighting Argo, “A recipe for Togetherness” Corn Starch. (Can’t you just imagine that ad campaign meeting?) The answer is “over one year.” Yeah, so. . . how much over? Puhleeze. I decided that I didn’t care even though it’s probably inert like Twinkies and that this was the kind of distraction that kept me at the superficial level of the kitchen tell.

I did it. In addition to the easy clearance items, I threw away-threw AWAY-a perfectly good pyrex quart measuring cup that I have continued to use in spite of the fact that it no longer has a single legible mark on it. I have had other measuring cups forever and I have no idea why I continued to use it. I did get an inkling to my “occupation and evolution” when laughingly talking to Mom about it later. Her response was, “But I’m sure it was still perfectly good and you knew where the lines were.”

Oops. As they say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The counter to that is, “But sometimes it rolls downhill.” Ayuh. I’m counting on some momentum.

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Old Dog~New Tricks

I was a knitter long ago in olden times. I even knit some garments from wool spun from sheep known to me personally and by name. I knit back in the day when your mother or aunt or grandmother was your teacher and I was fascinated that an Irish Fishermen’s Knit could be created by the manipulation of two sticks and a very long string. The daughter of “biff threatening” fame who started this blog idea has re-introduced me to the sport. Trust me on this, folks~what used to be a pastime is now indeed a sport. . . a kingdom. . . a realm.

Try Googling anything about knitting and the avalanche begins. There is an interesting podcast called Cast On and a blogger named Franklin in Chicago who has an imaginary sheep friend named Dolores who showed up one day instead of the wool he ordered. She’s a boozy Auntie Mame type and her antics are laugh out loud funny even if the closest you’ve come to knitting is buying a sweater at Marshall’s. Pictures of Franklin’s projects at The Panopticon inspire awe as do most of the bazillian other blog postings on the subject.

There is a new (to me) lexicon that has grown out of this community. LYS is local yarn store. To “un-knit” (sort of like the old tape re-wind) is to “tink” which is knit spelled backwards. To “frog” a sweater is to rip it out~so named because you need to “rip it, rip it, rip it” to return to the afore-mentioned single string. There are more kinds of yarns with more color permutations than all the past collective grandmothers, aunts and mothers could have imagined. To add to the sense of community, the LYS is a gathering place for like minded souls. A delightful shop in Maryland is called WoolWinders: A Knitting Salon, taking its name from the definition of salon that is a “social gathering of intellectuals: a regular gathering of prominent people from the worlds of literature, art, music, or politics, especially one held at the home of a wealthy woman.” I don’t know about the wealthy woman part, but the rest holds true.

Yesterday afternoon, I was visiting my LYS, WoolPack in Littleton, MA. Having finished a sweater, my hands were badly in need of another project. It was a grey afternoon with a threatening sky and the threat of an ice storm to come. This shop which stands alone with no malls or other stores nearby was inexplicably bustling with activity. The staff commented with a sigh, “It’s always like this before a storm.” Apparently, in this realm/kingdom/sport, it is as important to stock up on knitting supplies as milk and bread. It’s a new world, indeed.

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New York City. The Big Apple. The Melting Pot. Over the holidays I had the rare opportunity to pretend to live in New York due to the loan of a fabulous East Side apartment shared by a most generous friend. We arrived on New Year’s Day and dived into the delicious smorgasbord that is the city that never sleeps: restaurants; 5th, Madison, Lexington and Park Avenues; Central Park; museums; theatre; SoHo. Glitz and glitter.

So. . . let me share a story about the Post Office. Really. When I travel to foreign lands and even unfamiliar areas of this country, I like to go to local grocery stores to see how the natives really live as reflected by their ordinary choices. I would never have considered the USPS to be revealing of much local color. After all, surly is hardly colorful or local. The common response of my Boston office mates when told of an impending trip to mail a package was, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

My friend and short-term apartment mate uses the mail (rather ingeniously I think) to ship bulky items pre and post trip so that she doesn’t have to schlep so much as she flies from sea to shining sea. She was on such a mission and I was the observer at the neighborhood P.O. at 68th and something. The ornate interior of the 1920′s brick building was art deco bank with marble and gilt and the solid feel of a vault. The “teller” windows were on two sides and there were lights embedded in the trim that signaled to the next in line. Oh yes, indeed, there was a line. It was a Disney Land/airport security maze line well-populated on this second day of the new year with a melting pot of European students wrapped in scarves, ladies of all ages dripping in furs, elegant gentlemen with long cashmere overcoats and hombergs, one woman with Medusa-like hair that appeared quite mad, and all the rest of the ordinary looking mortals.

Gliding smoothly through and around this group was a slight and very dapper lavender shirted and neck tied “expediter”~what used to be called a floor walker in elegant department stores. He gave the distinct impression that he had a flower in his lapel, though he did not. He had a presence and kept things moving by deftly directing traffic and enlightening the confused.

Suddenly there was a bit of unpleasant energy. A very large, aggressive man began to be loudly unpleasant to one of the clerks behind her teller window. Uh oh. Someone going postal? Mr. Lavender walked over to him and bantered pleasantly, “Are you trying to get a date with this woman? Because let me tell you, I’ve worked with her for over 8 years and she’s very, very tough. Trust me, you wouldn’t just be returning her tomorrow. You would bring her back this very night. She’s like a wife, man. No kidding.” Everyone within earshot began to chuckle quietly at the monologue. The big guy was non-plussed and grinning sheepishly as the clerk completed the transaction. The light over the cage came on. Next.

A lesson in conflict resolution at the Post Office. Priceless.

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I confess. I miss “business” talk. What’s up with the interest rates, vacancy rates, mortgage rates, foreclosure rates? All of that. Because I’m people oriented, I’ve always found my informal polls of experienced colleagues to be more accurate forecasts than the published statistics. Living and working through a foreclosure cycle teaches a lot of hard lessons and I like to hear the opinions of seasoned veterans. The professional organizations (a plethora of initial-named societies) have countless forecasting seminars. No one is far from an opinion.

For years the retail discussions have been about the internet. Some thought there would be no more stores and no more offices, major concerns for commercial real estate landlords. While internet commerce has clearly changed the retail landscape, people still like to gather and retailers have adapted by having in-store computer sites and some mail-order only companies are partnering with the bricks and sticks stores so that there is an opportunity to touch the merchandise. Career “how to” articles are cautioning workers to pick up the phone and to arrange to meet face to face. E-mails are not enough, they declare. Amen.

So, I’m thinking this type of thought as I’m taking a walk earlier this week (before the big road clogging snowstorm.) It was mid-afternoon. The sun was casting a pink glow that was reflected by the light snow. The ice that had coated every single branch was melting and falling with a tinkling sound. The white fields trimmed by fences and dotted with houses here and there flowed serenely to the horizon to meet the distant mountains. The roads were sanded and the footing was solid. There was no one around. The solitude was delicious as I walked the two-mile loop.

I move to the side of the road as I hear a truck behind me. A brown UPS truck scoots by going North. I come to a crossroad and another UPS truck whizzes by going West. Another road and another truck going East. As I turn to go South I have a view of a subdivision road winding up the hill and there is another truck stopping at houses along the cul-de-sac. Remember how Edith Bunker used to set the table? It was like that. The driver was turning the truck around while his sidekick was running up to deliver the package. I could see all the trucks at one point scurrying up and down and around cartoon-like.

As I made the final turn, a Fed Ex truck came across the state line and headed up the road just vacated by the Edith Bunker UPS truck. I felt as if I should go home and get a chair, find a vantage spot and sit and wait for them all to crash together.

So, if I had a water cooler to talk around, I would say that internet shopping yielded good results that day for retailers in this little two-mile area, but the real money is on the delivery systems.

Oh, yes, the items that I had ordered online were on my breezeway when I got home.

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I have this cat, you see. We’ve lived together for seven years or so and we thought we knew each other. Not so. There was a rhythm to our relationship. I left early in the morning and came home late in the evening. He would go out when I left and come in when I came home. I fed him. He would occasionally bite the hand that fed him. The Vet told me it was male cat affection. A bite is a bite, human or feline. He went his way and I went mine.

We spend a lot of time together now, especially since the New England weather has cooperated with Currier and Ives’ snow and no thaw for a week. The white clapboard farmhouses and red barns of my town are busy posing for calendars in the late afternoon sunlight and the snowman population is high. Xander is clearly not fond of cold weather. He follows any sunlight around during the day, happily dozing and is benevolent of spirit.

Is there a cat equivalent of Cujo? He’s not exactly evil, but his personality definitely alters at twilight. His nocturnal genes kick in and he wants to go out. He forgets that it’s cold. . . . over and over and over. I’m bringing in wood and building a fire in the stove and opening the door to let in oxygen while I’m lighting the fire and closing the door when I’m through and closing the garage door and. . . and. . . you get the picture.

These comings and goings are accompanied by a streaking cat who manages to explode into the house looking as if he’s just been electrocuted. And he is mad, really MAD. The look on his furry face leaves me with no doubt that he holds me responsible. Sometimes he streaks upstairs and whaps his image in the full length mirror as he flies by. A few nibbles of food and he has forgotten the experience and is, once again, on the wrong side of the door.

I’ve always thought that the Universe had something to do with the pets that have come into my life and that living our parallel lives deepens the worldly experience. I’ve wondered a bit about why this particularly independent cat was in my life. Now I know he’s here to make me laugh, at least until we get a thaw.

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Graduations Examined

A friend recently retired from a prestigious US government job. A very special retirement ceremony was held to honor his service. For some reason, my brain persistently called it his”graduation ceremony.” Now I know why.

In catching up with friends and family over the holiday, I found that many of my group have made or are in the process of making the decision to retire. Most don’t have firm plans for their future, but know that it is time to leave whatever it is that they’ve been doing these many years. I also don’t know anyone who is contemplating the golf-every-day-drink-in-the-recliner-every-evening type of retirement. (Well, some actually may be planning a day or two of this.)

The funny thing is that it feels like it did when graduating from high school. Instead of test scores, we have retirement accounts. The prep course has been our lives up to now. The essay has been edited and corrected and worked over. Now is the time to sign our names, seal it up and send it into the future. It is what it is. A friend says that at our age, we all have so much baggage that we need sherpas to carry it. What about the option to store the stuff somewhere where we can find it if we need it? Where is it written that we have to carry it with us, anyway? The bell has rung and it’s time to put the pencil down and turn our papers over. This particular test is finished.

The good part about this graduation is that the next step isn’t competitive. No admission committees, no applications and no quotas, just choices. Lest we feel that we are taking a swan dive off a cliff, it is good to remind ourselves that a graduation is also a “mark indicating a division or interval on a graduated scale.” The concept of a continuum is also comforting to those of us afraid of heights.

On a hike this morning on our way to check out a new beaver dam and lodge, we came to a many tined fork in the trail. The leader asked us to stop and turn around to orient ourselves to where we had come from in order to get a perspective on which trail we were taking. Yes.

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Eeyore Lives

It was time for the other shoe to drop, for the dark side to appear. Darkness was the theme of the week.

This particular week started on Halloween with oral surgery and appropriate gore. Then came All Saints’ Day with words like necrology (“list of the dead” in case, like me, this isn’t in your vocabulary.) The stock market has been bouncing around like a ping pong ball in a garbage can. The price of oil is twice what was considered astronomical a few months ago.

The cosmic switch for November was flipped to “On”. The trees are bare and it’s cold and gray and frosty. The clocks have been turned back and the earth is hurtling towards the next solstice marking the shortest day. Afternoon walks have to be moved up or darkness falls with no subtlety. Thwop. It’s dark and reports of bear sightings in the vicinity immediately flash before me. Oh dear. Oh me, and oh my.

The retirement comments are moving from congratulatory into the realm of interesting and revealing. As with so many of life’s decisions, the comments of friends and acquaintances are likely to reflect their own position. A friend who is only a few years younger stated that he didn’t want to retire early since he didn’t want to waste his education. Interesting. I see it as, arguably, the loss of a particular job and way of living each day, but not as brain death. When I cease doing a job, am I still me? Am I more me, perhaps, when I choose my own lines to color within? I hope so. It is true that blank pages are daunting for most of us and we flee.

There are many comments from experienced retirees warning of slippery slopes of all kinds with descriptions of experiences that are all downhill from somewhere. Working on financial matters, I was asked by two (2) professionals to predict my death. That one stops you in your tracks. I know that they meant that in order to make certain decisions, we needed to look at my personal demographics to get an idea of my life span, but they didn’t say that. As the waves of Baby Boomers hit this stage, no doubt a more politically correct (or at least kinder) way of asking this will be found. My reaction was to laugh. You know the alternative.

After a day of errands, I was deep in these thoughts as I drove up the dirt road and turned into the driveway. There in the thin, gray November twilight was a flock of wild turkeys convening and conferring in front of the garage. They reminded me that it’s also a time of Thanksgiving and gratitude. After this week, I am thankful that they weren’t buzzards.

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We’re not so rural as we used to be. Is anyone? Anywhere? We have our share of Big Box stores and coffee on every corner, mixed in with horses loose on the road and a porcupine on the back porch (yesterday’s country adventures.) Where there used to be a cut-your-own-rhubarb field on the honor system with a cigar box for money and knives for borrowing, and a general store with a sign that proclaimed “Eat Here and Get Gas”, there are now cutesy Ye Olde Newe Englande strip malls. We have cable and the internet and mail at the end of the driveway. Big deal, you might say, but we didn’t always have that out here at the end of the earth. As you may gather, commerce here is a mixed bag of Them and Us.

So, when my washing machine of 36 years of age died recently, I embarked on a mini-adventure. Actually, it didn’t so much die as it needed a walker to get from task to task. It had certainly been a faithful companion, giving credence to the company’s statement that their repairmen were the loneliest men in town. I gave it some assisted living for a while by setting the timer and manually moving it along to its next task. Tiresome.

I have learned to trust local businesses who have been in business for a long time. The cheapest advertised price isn’t necessarily the cheapest “all in” price. I like the person who sells it to me to be the person who installs it and fixes it. I like them to know and to care about the item’s life cycle and to care how I am going to use it.

For appliances, I deal with a father/son company and we have a relationship that has been built up over the years by not seeing each other much, which is a bit of a mystery. A light will dawn and they will remember that I’m the one way down in the woods with the old appliances. It isn’t that they don’t have their share of MacMansion Sub-Zero type business, it’s that relationships are part of how they do business. It’s who they are and they remember.

If you haven’t replaced appliances in a long time, you will find that standard clearances and tolerances have changed. (Metaphor for our times? Never mind.) Friends of mine have bought new dishwashers AND new countertops since the new dishwashers don’t fit old spaces and they weren’t terribly pleased with that particular financial slippery slope.

My choices of washing machines that fit and were highly rated for dependability made my decision very easy~one choice. I bought it sight unseen over the phone with the Dad and the Sons installed the new one and removed the old one at my convenience (imagine that).

Of course, after a couple of loads, I had a couple of questions. I call Dad and identify myself and tell him I have questions. He answers, “Nope, it doesn’t have a filter. They haven’t put them in washing machines since 1998.”

“How did you know what I was going to ask?” I respond with surprise.

“Everyone who replaces an old machine asks that question, ” says he. “We’ve gone to the manufacturer and they say that the dryer should get out the lint. If you hang clothes on the line, they don’t care about you because there aren’t enough of you. They told us that.” This answered my next question.

“By the way,” he added, “this one won’t last you over 30 years.”

“No kidding,” I thought.

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The retirement party balloons in the front hall are a metaphor for this process called retirement. All of the regular balloons have lost buoyancy and are gathered languidly at the foot of the mylar “Happy Retirement” balloon as it bobs and sways like a gentleman bowing in a receiving line.

One week in and here are some of the current realities:

I still wake up at 5 am. I roll over and go back to sleep, of course. The scientific experiment is to find out what my natural circadian rhythms are after years and years of catapulting out of bed to launch the day.

I knew this would happen. I decided to go out for lunch yesterday and chose to pass perfectly acceptable local places in order to go all the way to Nashua (a mere half hour away). Ostensibly I was trying a luncheon cafe that is open primarily during the week, BUT the real reason was that I needed to listen to a book on tape. I am listening to one of the incomparable performances of Lisette Lecat reading one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books featuring the #1 lady detective of Botswana. It just would not have been the same to use the CD player in the house. Really. Honest. Oh, who am I kidding? This is another scientific experiment on how long it will take to break a very conditioned response.

I don’t have any roses left in my garden to stop and smell. The autumn equivalent is the smell of wet leaves and pine needles. The dirt roads that are my walk are framed in golden green with splashes of red. Light gusts of wind bring showers of leaves and pine needles along with the water droplets of this misty day. Chipmunks scurry into crevices in rock walls and blue jays call to each other with the sounds of echoing rusty gates. This, indeed, is the “Happy Retirement” balloon still aloft.

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