Friday, August 5, 2022

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retirement application.  My mind raced.  What was I thinking?  I made six figures. I was content.  The problem was the dark circles under my eyes, the feeling of missing out on my real passion, and the need to focus on “me” for a change.  The decision did not come lightly.  I studied my options, requested financial analysis on my investments and read everything I could about the do’s and don’ts of retiring.  Millions of people had joined the great resignation in search of fulfillment and it called to me like never before.  Life as I knew it would change forever and somewhere deep down inside, I knew it was for the better.    

I promised myself that I would make great use of this gift of retirement and would take time each day to focus on self-improvement.  I bought a yoga mat.  I was obviously prepared.  The schedule I crafted in my head included yoga time, prayer time, meditation time, healthy cooking and 30 minutes of walking or biking each day. I promised to return to writing, a passion that had been simmering on the back burner for years.   I would not waste a minute of retirement.  

The first day as a retiree felt like a vacation day.  Work matters lingered in my head, but I knew to keep them there and not call the office to offer unsolicited advice to people who were well trained to move forward without me.  My job now was self care, so I mounted my Peloton bike, updated my subscription that had quietly lapsed during years on nonuse and immediately became self-aware that I did not own any proper exercise clothes like the instructors on screen. My ten year old cotton sweat pants were a sad reminder of my neglectfulness.  Preparing to ride included clipping in my biking shoes which left my feet securely attached to the bike. This is a great feature for those with the ankle strength and agility to easily unclip from the pedals.  Sadly, I had neither and my anxiety level increased and kept me from truly appreciating the 70’s ride with Fleetwood Mac songs motivating me to make it to the 20 minute mark.  At the eleventh minute, I managed to get one foot free and lay on the floor with the other foot still clipped into the bike, Googling, “How to remove foot from Peloton”.    

My attempt at exercise demanded a reward and I reached past the week old kale in the refrigerator and grabbed a handful of Hershey’s Kisses perfectly chilled at 38 degrees.  The phone rang and it was work.  I have to admit, I was excited.  After catching up on all news that no longer involved me, I grabbed the yoga mat and went outside.  I had seen those beautiful people at the lake doing their downward dog poses early in the morning and I was determined to join their ranks.  I rolled out the mat and stretched out as if taking a Kindergarten nap.  The position was familiar and I closed my eyes, taking in the yin and yang that surely must be surrounding me.  I remembered that breathing was important and began a series of deep inhalations, counting to three and visualizing the oxygen pushing goodness through my veins.  As comfortable as this little spot in the world was, I knew I had to move and attempt some of the few yoga poses I knew.  After a warrior pose and stretching my arms to the sky because it felt like something I should do, I returned to my Google searching to find basic yoga poses.  I found several, but I also found a coupon for 20% off a robot vacuum cleaner and I sat up on my mat and took deep cleansing breaths as I jumped to Amazon Prime and ordered a new vacuum with one click purchasing.  Yoga was fun!   

An article popped up on my phone that said the ability or inability to stand on one foot for more than ten-seconds was a good mortality predictor.  My mind raced and I had to try it. I stood tall on my mat, lifted one foot and attempted to place it against my other knee.  This was not possible so I gently pushed it again my other leg, about calf high, and immediately fell over.  My years of retirement seemed to shrink before my eyes.  I grabbed a nearby chair and balanced myself as I focused on standing on one foot, defying mortality.   The Fleetwood Mac song played in my head, “I climbed a mountain and I turned around…”.  I was doing it.  I was extending my life by years as I stood outside on my yoga mat, in a one footed balancing act.  

Two yoga poses and one robot vacuum later,  I moved to a wooden rocking chair that sits on my porch.  It was my mother’s and she used to sit there each morning for her prayer time and silently called out everyone’s name.  Prayer time was on my schedule, so I would carry on that tradition and took my place in the prayer chair.  I have to admit, I have a secret problem that I have never been able to close my eyes for long periods of time unless I’m sleeping.  I’m that girl who looks around the church during prayer while everyone else is looking down, deeply engaged in their thoughts.  God knows my mind races and I know He understands my issues.  I sat in my prayer chair, thanking God for my family, my health, my home and my job.  It was at that moment I realized I don’t have a job and my eyes flew open again.  A quiet panic moved through me and the only known cure was another handful of Hershey’s kisses.   I raced to the refrigerator, threw the wilted kale in the trash, downed the chocolate and made my way to the couch where I would review my retirement estimate once again.  

The monthly annuity seemed small compared to what my salary had been, but I was comparing apples and oranges.  I would no longer have many of the big expenses such as Social Security, Medicare, higher taxes, and more.  If I did the math different ways and considered the dollar amount of what I would no longer have to pay, I was now making somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 a year to stay home and do bad yoga. The swing in calculations was troubling, so I abandoned my search for determining my comparable wage and mapped out a plan for the next day of retirement.  With my new ability to stand one footed, it was going to be a long retirement, so I had to make good use of every minute of it.   At the end of the day, I stood strong knowing my decision to retire early was the right one.  Tomorrow would bring day two of retirement and there was a whole world out there waiting to be explored, enjoyed and celebrated.  57 seemed just the right age to begin.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Woman in the Dryer

  I stumbled across a video of a tall woman trapped inside a dryer.  I watched in amazement as the fire department maneuvered her this way and that to free her from the metal drum that ached to spin left or right with each movement.  Several questions immediately came to mind and I wished for the prequel to this story to help understand how a woman finds herself inside the drum of a dryer.  That video would most likely include alcohol and encouraging friends.   Sadly, no answers were to be found so I moved on to watch other things such as videos of pigs wiggling their ears in unison when their names were called and brave youngsters jumping off of cliffs into the deep blue waters of places that whisper my name in my dreams.  

   That night, after an hour of trying to make a nest in my bed and finally falling to sleep, I did not dream of far away seas or beautiful waters.  The lady in the dryer filled my thoughts, leaving me anxious and wide-eyed, once again.  As I lay there with one foot out of the covers, I realized that I may have a touch of claustrophobia.  The signs have been there all along. I just haven't paid attention.  Incapable of being pinned down by the weight of my own bedding,  I thought back to a time as a child where I found myself locked in a gas station bathroom.  I'm sure I was probably only in there for minutes before my family found the garage owner and the door was opened, but I remember the panic to this day.   Years later, my daughter and I would find ourselves trapped on an elevator in Washington D.C. for several minutes.  In those few short minutes, I remained outwardly calm, while my insides tumbled like the very dryer that tall women crawled inside.  My body filled with heat, my heart raced, and I assessed if I could actually jump 8 feet to the trap door like some super hero.   I could not.  I thought about how I could lift my tiny tot to the trap door if needed and quickly realized the flaws in that plan because certainly a 60 pound child could not lift her mother up into the elevator shaft and who in their right mind would allow her to try.  If she had that power, she could rip the doors open and we would be on our way to the pool as originally planned.  As my respirations became rapid, the doors opened and we were free.  The adrenaline rush carried us quickly down the hall to the blue waters and open air where we were safe, once again.

  I've spent my life unaware of my fear of closed spaces.  On another family trip, I was quick to sign us up for the Mammoth Cave tour.  It was the height of summer and the cool air that rushed forth from the cave entrance was welcoming and exciting.  We were half way though the tour in the dark, when the guide informed us that the cave ceiling to our right had collapsed the year before.  It was at that very moment that the tour was over for me.  The group moved forward and I stood still, unable to move deeper into the dark.  Of a cave.  A cave where the ceiling can suddenly collapse.  With no warning.  Unfortunately, the only thing scarier than moving further into a dark, unstable cave, is to be left behind in a dark, slowly, crumbling million year old cave.  My husband took my hand and pulled me forward.  He had one child on his shoulders and another one dragging their feet behind him.   I immediately began mapping out emergency plans in my head.  If only I had breadcrumbs, a long rope and some extra lanterns.  I had none. The guide told stories of those who had wandered into the dark only to lose their way and never leave the tight confines of the damp, dark cave.  And I paid for this, I thought.  I was not there seeking refuge.  I had not entered because circumstances deemed this the safer place for me.  I had picked up a flyer in Shoney's restaurant and while downing a Big Boy Burger, I believed that I could be an adventurer, too.  I might as well have been trapped in a dryer.  Everything in me tumbled into mush and I closed my eyes and held on tight until daylight returned.  

  Finding oneself in a tight space is one thing.  Thinking it's a good choice to go there in the first place is another thing.  I wish I could have spoken to the tall women in the dryer before she made choices with an adventurous spirit.  I would have told her I commend her desire to venture into unknown territory, but perhaps she should choose a location that doesn't spin freely or have tumbling sides.   Most importantly, I would tell her if she has friends who want to film her headed towards danger, she should most likely choose better friends.  She needs friends who will take her hand and lead her away from danger, not towards it.  Then, when the drum rolls or the sky falls, she will be safe in the care of those who actually love her.  




Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Safety Not Required

Well, it finally happened.  I ran over my husband.  This comes as no surprise to family and friends and most importantly, everyone is fine.  Mostly.  The day began with my husband tinkering about the yard as a heavy rain of Autumn leaves began to fall.  In order to beat the fall cover, he decided it was time to seed the yard with winter grass.  He called for my help and this is when the plan began to go south.  

I was instructed to drive the 4-wheeler while he sat on the front rack pushing the lawn seeder.  I knew immediately that this would not end well and voiced my objection to this plan, "You know I'm going to run over you, don't you?"  He filled the seeder and jumped on front.  Six foot two with heavy camo' jacket, he blocked any view I would need to steer the vehicle on a safe course. "Go," he instructed, as he lit a cigarette and pushed the seeder with one hand.   "Go left", "Go Right," "Watch that tree," he called from his perch.  Now standing while driving, in order to see anything, I was completely unaware that the vehicle would not leave second gear. Any shifting of gears was useless, but the most important piece of information I should have received in our our pre-flight meeting was that the vehicle would not go in reverse, even if I hit the button with the large red "R" on it. 

We sailed around the yard several times, with the seeder going one way, the vehicle going the opposite way, me standing and driving, and my husband trying to keep us on a straight course. The corners of the yard were the biggest challenge and often required my husband jumping off the ATV to grab the seeder as it headed for the parked cars.  He would return, lift the front of the vehicle, putting us back on course and we would continue on.  This worked 99% of the time.  It was the 1% that did us in. 

As we approached another corner of the yard, we moved along fairly quickly in second gear and I felt confident that I could master the curve without stopping or readjusting.  The seeder started to veer to the left and my husband pulled sharply to the right.  The seeder was headed under the front left tire and as my husband jumped off to save the seeder, I threw the unit in reverse and hit the accelerator. It seemed like slow motion as I watched legs go under the ATV first, then I heard a giant thud and some curse words not to be repeated in a Family Friendly blog.   Then, it all went quiet. 

Afraid to look, I knew that I had surely broken both of his legs and the winter would be spent with a half green yard as we would never finish what we had started.   Standing, while still holding onto the brake, uncertain what gear we were in, I peeked over the front to see my husband lying on the ground lighting a cigarette.   "What were you thinking," I questioned, shifting the blame before he had the chance to.   He shook off the dirt, jumped on front again and off we headed.  

Unable to see where I was driving, I picked leaves off the back of his jacket and steered left when he said left and steered right when he said right.  This lasted about two more rounds in the yard before I ran into a parked vehicle.  It was then, while attached to the bumper of a large van that he jumped off, took the seeder in hand and began walking the final laps in the yard.   I left the ATV where it sat, rumbling in second gear, and headed inside to familiar territory where it was fairly certain there would be no one to run over.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Face In The Dark

Forty years or so ago, I sat on the living room floor, in front of the console tv, watching Jane Jetson make video calls with George.  He would often call from Spacely Space Sprockets before jumping in his flying bubble car and heading home.  If Jane wasn't looking her finest, she would step behind a mask which featured perfectly coiffed hair before addressing the caller on the other end of the video phone. As kids, we dreamed of the day that we would own such a device and be able to fly around in little space cars.  It would surely be magical.

Today, while it is nothing short of magic, the FaceTime Application on my Smartphone live streams my child directly into my life at any given moment.  At 2:00 a.m. my tiny beauty will ring in and suddenly appear in the dark above me as I attempt to wake from a deep sleep. She can see nothing but darkness and the possible reflection of my phone screen bouncing off of my pupils, but it doesn't stop her from going on and on about whatever fabulous event has just occurred. She pops in and out at odd times whether I'm ready or not.  I get to walk to class with her on cold mornings while I hear her talk about her day and see nothing but feet moving quickly across the ground.  I've spent hours staring at the roof of her car as she talks to me from the driver's seat of her car while her phone sits safely in the passenger seat.   I've seen close-up views of her forehead, her chin and one eye as my tired girl drifts off to sleep in mid-sentence.  

It's an odd reality having your children drop in and out as if they are still there in the house, ready to help with preparing dinner, folding clothes or just sitting on the edge of the bed late at night.  Unfortunately, distance and a tiny glass screen stand between us.  While she can't actually reach a helping hand through the screen, she brings me such joy as she chooses to stay connected from so far away.   I feel it deep in my soul that we are one step closer to flying autos that fold down into a briefcase and I fully expect to wake one night to a hovering craft above my bed.  It won't be aliens, much to my husband's chagrin, but will simply be my Spacely Sprocket child ready to include me in her next adventure.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Spring Without Water

“One a ponce a time” was the way most bedtime stories began in our house when my children were young.  Everyone wanted to contribute to the story and my tiny girl began each one with that exact opener.  It was usually followed by tales of unicorns, rainbows and superhuman powers of invisibility and metamorphosis.   Today’s story fittingly deserves that very perfect beginning….
One a ponce a time, a tired mom went to battle with the water company.  It was a mighty beast with no unicorns or rainbows anywhere to be found.  The mom, me, would pay the bill, but the evil water company would still send its henchman to cut off my nice flow of cool, clean water that should have been headed into our home.  People certainly had to have doubted my tales of payment and probably wondered why I had not simply paid the bill.  Through clenched fists and frustration tempered only by the desire to be heard, I would explain to the water company that my check had been cashed and yet, I still had no water.  The evil henchman and I were soon on a first name basis as he visited monthly to cut my water off.  I found he really wasn’t evil at all and sometimes he would leave the water on as long as I didn’t tell anyone.  He knew he would have a service order to turn it back on within hours.   
Unable to defeat the utility Gods, I handed the bill to my husband and sent him into battle.  He proudly wrote the check, mailed it in a timely manner and watched in amazement as my friend returned at the end of the month to cut our water off.  He realized quickly that this fight may be bigger than the two of us.
Meanwhile, life went on and as we left for work each day, we hoped for working utilities upon our return.  My mother watched our daughter at our home while we worked to pay for things such as working utilities.  One lovely spring day, my mother took my daughter to the local park in search of unicorns, rainbows and fun.  My child spied a baby squirrel and ran to scoop him up into her hands.  As she joyfully ran down the sidewalk she didn’t see the giant sign over the wet concrete that said “Do not step here” because somebody forgot to place such a sign, which could have proven to be quite helpful in preventing my tiny girl from falling face first into the shallow pool of fluid cement that on any other given day would have been firm concrete.  My mother picked my girl up out of the wet mess and raced home to clean her up before she cured.  The two flew into the house and into the tub only to discover that there was no water.  A giant sign indicating such could have been helpful here, too.  I am thankful that we did not have cell phones at that time because I can only imagine the words my mother would have chosen when she called to tell me of the literal mess they were in. The two traveled quickly to my mother’s home on the other side of town where my daughter was properly rinsed clean of all hardening concrete.  She soaked happily in a tub of warm, clean water that was ever-flowing, much like that in the land of unicorns and rainbows. 
It took several months before the water bill issue was cleared up and to this day I am thankful every time I turn on the water to find that it works.  Of course, I do have a self-fabricated tool that happens to fit nicely at the turn-off valve near the water meter should I ever fall in concrete and find myself in desperate need of water.   While it’s been years since the water has been cut off, I stand ready for battle at all times.   Like the superheroes in my children’s bedtime stories, I can fight off evil and turn on utilities with one simple tool… automated payments.  It’s a game changer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Little Woman At the Edge of the Wood

   As the night sky politely gave way to the morning who stretched and yawned and filled the sky with her glowing pinks and soft orange colors, the world at the edge of the wood began to wake up.  Rabbit in his tiny hutch nudged the other bunnies right out of their bed as he, too, stretched and yawned and reached much farther than the corners of his bed.  As he lay there, all stretchy and warm, he listened through sleepy ears for the soft rain of sunflower seeds and dried corn that sprinkled down on his house each morning.  

    It was the little old lady who lived at the edge of the wood who made sure rabbit and friends had plenty to eat.  She came to her porch every morning as the sun rose softly above the pine trees and reached into a bucket of seeds and grains, scooping up a cup of breakfast for the animals who lived near.  The porch door would creak as she stepped outside and with all the might she could muster, she would toss the seeds into the woods where they fell down softly on the forest floor.  

    The blue jays were always first to come to dine. Before rabbit could make his way out of his hutch, the pesky blue birds were buzzing this way and that as they gobbled up as many seeds as they could.  The bunnies came in pairs and sifted through the sunflower seeds looking for tiny pieces of corn or carrots that tasted so delightful.  There were always good things to find in the morning. 

    The little lady loved her woodland friends.  She sat in her rocking chair and watched them as they all came to eat with one another.  She laughed as the blue jays fussed at everyone for she knew they had frightfully poor manners.  The squirrels did not care for the selfish ways of the blue jays and would shake their tails in objection as they nibbled on the morning treats.  The bunnies were the old woman’s favorite, for they were quiet and kind and shared politely, the way friends should. 

    One morning, as the purple night sky turned to pink, rabbit yawned and stretched, but he did not hear the pitter patter of seeds falling into the wood. He yawned and stretched farther as he thought it could be too early.  Rabbit was not early, though, and the morning bounty never came. The blue jays were first to arrive to find the forest floor empty of seeds and good things. They paced around with heavy steps, wings on their sides and noses in the air, most displeased with this turn of events. The bunnies arrived and stood together wondering why breakfast was not there.  The squirrels ran about, shaking their tails as they looked for seeds or grains or berries, but none were found.  The animals gathered together and sighed a heavy sigh. 

    Many mornings passed and there was no creak of the porch door.  There was no seed scattered on the forest floor.  The little woman no longer sat in her rocking chair smiling at rabbit and all his friends.  On the fifth day, when the night sky had disappeared completely, rabbit sprang from his bed and called for the birds and the squirrels and all the bunnies. It was clear to them all that something was wrong.  The squirrels climbed to the windows and looked inside for the old woman.  It was there that they saw her sleeping in her bed, even while the sky turned the brightest of blue.  The woodland animals watched as new people came and went, but their friend continued to sleep as the days went by. Mornings arrived and then night pushed the bright sky out of view. The old woman slept through the days and nights and no seeds fell to the forest floor.

    It was rabbit who decided what must be done.  He called for the blue birds, the squirrels and the bunnies. They crafted a plan to help the little woman.  They each knew what to do and would meet again the next day as the morning sky stretched and yawned.  Rabbit scurried off to the apple orchard.  The bunnies gathered wildflowers that grew near a pond and the blue jays wove sticks together as they did when they made their nests.  The squirrels gathered pecans from the grove by the wood. 

    The next morning as the pink and orange sky gave way to good things, a bounty from the forest was left on the old women’s porch.  Rabbit left a basket of fresh apples.  The blue jays brought a wreath they had made of grasses and twigs and hung it high on the porch door.  The bunnies placed wild blue irises and morning glories in a jar on the porch.  The squirrels left pecans in a bowl by the door.  It was their turn to give back to the little woman who had fed them all every morning for so many years. Day after day, the animals brought fresh fruits and flowers to the little old woman in hopes that it may wake her from her sleep and bring her happiness. 
    Rabbit lay in his bed one early morning, dreaming of the apples he would deliver that day when he woke to the soft sounds of seed falling into the wood upon his house.  He sprang from his bed, causing all the bunnies to roll to the floor, and ran to the edge of the wood to see the old woman standing on her porch.  The blue jays had not arrived yet and only rabbit and the little old woman stood there in the clearing.  They both smiled and their hearts filled with warmth as they both knew what each had done for the other.  The little woman sat in her rocking chair as she waited for all of her friends to arrive.  They each came and enjoyed the seeds and grains and tiny vegetables that waited for them.  As the sky turned from pink to blue, the little woman held a shiny red apple close to her heart and politely whispered thank you to rabbit and all.    

Friday, July 28, 2017

Searching for Me

In twelve days, my youngest child moves out and moves to college.  The house will never be the same.  I am excited for her, but I worry what comes next in my life story designed entirely around my children.  I'm not sure how to take center stage in a house soon set for two.  I find myself Googling distractions that I'm keenly aware will never fill the void.  Had I been online a day earlier, I would have purchased a 45 foot 1979 Gibson Houseboat.  Thank God, someone purchased it before I did.  I've looked at lake condos, sports cars, cabins off the grid, all which appeal to my sense of needing to find a hobby that has nothing to do with carrying kids to singing lessons, cheer practice, tutoring, or school.   I've watched Youtube videos on how to remove the popcorn texture from ceilings and plan to duct tape a 6 inch scraper to my husband's wet-vac and pretend I know what I'm doing.  I've learned to play enough piano to make me fun at a party, but frightening at a recital.  I've given up red meat and pretend to be vegan until I grab my Italian leather purse and head out the door.  While I've been searching for everything, the one thing I haven't found is the answer to who I am now.  My identify is slipping out the door with the last child and now I have to figure out how to do this on my own.

Somehow, I don't see the next chapter actually leading to a rustic cabin in the Ozarks or with me trying to pull a 45 foot boat into a slip without destroying a dock.  I don't plan to join the corvette club or give up a night on the town with a good juicy steak.  I think, at first, I will rest.  I will give thanks for the amazing 22 years it has been with both children and I will remind them how proud I am of both of them.  They are truly good people.  After that, I may learn a few of my mother's recipes.  There never was time to really cook together.  I may travel a little more. I will go see my dad and maybe take him to Shapiro's in Indianapolis for a Corned Beef sandwich. Perhaps this is my time to reach out to friends who I haven't seen in years.  I'll try not to show up at my children's doorsteps every weekend as I know that they have to spread their own wings and they don't need "Mom" there all the time.  As frightening as it all seems, there is a sense of excitement too, because I know that such great things are ahead for both of my children.  There are good things ahead, for me, too.

As I drop my daughter off at my old college, we both need matching shirts that say, "Lookout world, here we come!"  She will begin a path I once traveled and I will forge ahead, carving out a new story that I can share with her each time we meet.  Our stories will always intertwine and that fact, alone, is what gives me courage to walk a new path.  I can't wait to hear of the amazing things she is doing and  in turn, I will tell her of my new adventures.  My son will join us and it will be like old times again.  Because of them, I am not afraid of the next chapter. There is so much more to be written.  While it feels like it's over, it's really not.  It's just a new adventure waiting for us all.

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...