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Passing the Baton

Passing the BatonWhen I was in high school I was a sprinter.  Besides running the 100 and the 220-yard dashes, I was the anchor leg for the 440-yard relay and the mile relay.  For my four years of high school, I was the fastest sprinter we had on the team, so I was the last person to receive the baton during the relay races.  My team of three other young women counted on me to finish strong.

The track is a team sport so the points a team earns from all of the track and field events are combined and those points determine the school that wins the meet.  Whether you ran the hurdles, threw the shot put, or did the long jump, every point counted and each member was important to the success of the team.

I learned as a teenager that the most critical part of a relay race was the passing of the baton.  We could have the four fastest runners, but if the baton was bobbled or it wasn’t a smooth hand-off, we would lose precious time and it was very difficult to win the race.  If the baton was passed outside of the designated area, beyond our own lane, or if the baton was dropped, it meant you were disqualified.  We constantly practiced our hand-offs because if the baton was dropped, all of those months of hard work were for nothing and in less than 60 seconds it was over.

Yesterday, had my family trip to Mexico not been canceled, I could have missed my own “passing of the baton.” I have been a part of a regional collaboration of local governments for the past 16 years.  We work across jurisdictional lines to bring online permitting services to our development community.  The ECityGovAlliance, https://ecitygov.net, formed in 2002-2003 just as the internet was becoming popular. Hundreds of individuals came together and as a team, we did something great all for our customers.  A web platform called,

https://mybuildingpermit.com is now the way 20 local governments have collaborated to serve our community.

What started as a small idea has grown into something very important to our region and to our local economy.  Contractors and developers in a two-county region can go to one place and obtain multiple permits from multiple jurisdictions via a convenient website.

I’m so proud of my small part in this collaboration and I’ve made many friends over the years.  I have loved working with such hard-working public servants who, like me, put our residents and customers first.  As I retire, I realize that I’ll miss the important work we do and my role on the team.

Even though I should have been on vacation, I was invited to attend the monthly meeting.  About fifteen minutes before the Executive Board meeting started, there was a knock at my door and a florist delivered a beautiful vase of gorgeous flowers.  This was a huge surprise because I never receive flowers! When we started the zoom call, I was excited to see several board members and leaders from the past in attendance.

At first, I wasn’t sure what was happening.  But then I saw the first agenda item.  It was to thank me and welcome my deputy director!  It was humbling and overwhelming for me to listen to their thanks and gratitude for my years of service to the alliance and mybuildingpermit.com. I don’t think I was quite emotionally prepared for the stories and words they shared for about 45 minutes! It was heartwarming to be reminded of the past and appreciated for things I had long forgotten. I’m still processing what it has meant for me to be a contributor to such an amazing team and to share in our success.

At the end of this special time, I was able to figuratively “pass the baton” of leadership to my deputy director.  I am fully confident that he’ll be able to run the next leg of the race well. He is prepared, experienced, and ready to go.  I’m happy the hand-off went smoothly and I know that someday he’ll do the same thing.

I pulled a baton out of a closet and placed it next to my bouquet of flowers and took a picture to remember this day.  I’m not sure if I expected to be anxious or sad but I wasn’t.  At that moment yesterday, right after hearing so many kind and thoughtful comments, I felt a sense of peace and contentment.  

I had an image in my mind of standing on the track at Snohomish High School and watching my teammates run their race.  I’m realizing, in a very real way, that I have finished my leg of the race and now it is time to hand-off my baton to others.

Birthday

I passed another milestone last week. I’m now eligible for social security!  Even though I plan to wait for eight more years before I draw my benefit, it seems like this day arrived sooner than I could have imagined.

Most of my more recent birthdays haven’t been celebrated with family.  February is prime snow skiing season and during the past decade, I’ve usually been on a ski trip somewhere during my birthday week.  Our “Chicks On Sticks” group of skiers have traveled to Utah, Colorado, and Montana.  Sometimes we stayed closer to home and went to Mission Ridge in Wenatchee, Washington. One year, after an epic day of skiing in a blizzard, one of my best friends rushed home and set up a surprise party in her home. It was a fantastic ending to an amazing day with great friends, but no family.

This year, with skiing disrupted by the pandemic, we planned to stay home.  But with the case rates dropping significantly in Washington and Oregon I played the “nana” card and asked for a party with my kids and grandkids. I hadn’t seen my daughter and her family since September and missed them for all of the major holidays this season.  They drove their travel trailer up from Oregon and I was thrilled we could all be together at my son’s house.

Even though it was another wet and cold weekend in the Pacific Northwest, that didn’t stop us from having a fun celebration together.  All ten of us were together for the first time since I can’t remember when. My grandson also celebrates a birthday three days after mine so we had a joint party.

On Friday night, we shared one of my favorite meals. My daughter-in-law made her lasagna, garlic bread, and caesar salad.  I even had a glass of red wine.

For dessert, my daughter baked a cake and brought lots of ideas and decorations.  Three of us, my granddaughter and daughter and I, combined our creative forces and decorated a cake with a theme chosen by my grandson. He wanted a snowy mountain with a river on the cake.

She made a chocolate cake that we spread with fluffy white frosting and covered it with coconut to look like snow.  With ideas from Pinterest, we made mountain peaks from sugar cones dipped in white chocolate, a river of buttercream frosting dyed two shades of blue, and added some chocolate covered coffee beans as rocks.  My daughter even brought little skiers and some trees to add some realism.

Birthday and Medicare ElligibilityOn Saturday morning, in spite of the biting cold and rain, we climbed a local mountain in nearby Enumclaw.  Mount Peak isn’t the tallest mountain but climbing up the rocky trail got your heart rate going.  Some people weren’t happy about hiking in the rain but everyone including the dogs, Sadie and Millie, made it to the top. Usually, there is a view of Mount Rainier from the high point but it was definitely not a clear day.  We snapped a quick picture at the top and turned around and came back down in a rainstorm.

It was now my grandson’s turn to have his favorite meal. My son in law made delicious “smash burgers” on the griddle that night.  We had all of the fixings for a summer barbecue in the middle of winter. 

In the evening, after a hot shower to warm up, we got cozy by the wood fire in our jammies and loungewear.  The four cousins played video games in the family room and the six adults played a board game around the kitchen table.  We laughed until we couldn’t stay awake.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate turning 62 during the winter of 2021.  Retirement and the beginning of spring are in about six weeks.  I’m excited to see what the rest of this year brings!

Mentoring

When I think back on my career, I’m sad that there were very few positive mentors and a just few coaches that crossed my path.  However, when there was someone who took an interest in me, was willing to invest their time and energy in smoothing my journey or considered ways they could help me, I was always grateful.  I think these people in my life stand out because it was so rare in my generation, especially for women, to find someone who would make the commitment to helping someone else learn to navigate a system that hadn’t changed for generations.

I am really excited that a number of co-workers, all of them young women, have taken me up on my offer of becoming their mentor.  A mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser.”  The act of mentoring is to “advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).”

I have already started this process with them and I’m hooked.  We spend about 30 minutes together once a month. Each person has a different purpose and focus. Some send me questions or ideas ahead of time so that I can prepare. While other meetings are very casual and off-the cuff. We talk about whatever is on their mind in that moment.

Mentoring is different than a friendship. I’ve realized that there has to be something in it for both parties for the time spent to make sense.  For the mentees, it is a chance to ask questions, hear stories, seek guidance for a situation they are struggling with or understand better the work environment in which they find themselves. Some are seeking career advice, need help with preparing a job application or practice interviewing skills.  Others are making decisions about their careers and their plans for the future.

With the pandemic and all of them working from home, I’ve been able to offer emotional support for those working hard on their careers all while parenting young children. They have incredibly daunting challenges, including being productive, caring for kids at home, virtual schooling, and schedules that don’t line up.  While their husbands generally leave the home and can go to work to “get a break”, they are left for long days trying to juggle multiple pressures with absolutely no boundaries between work, school and home life.

For me, I derive a great deal of joy listening to both their challenges and their successes.  I love to help them see a challenging situation from a different point of view.  I can provide a unique perspective because I’m familiar with our work culture, county history and the people who comprise our office and our customers. This opportunity to be in a mentor-mentee relationship, for as long as it makes sense for all of us, provides me with a connection to the past while transitioning to my future. It gives me a chance to give back to a community I have loved for over four decades.  

Yes, I’m looking forward to retirement but I know I’ll miss the people part of my job and work life.  As a mentor, I will be able to encourage public servants from outside the organization absent the hierarchy structure of a large department. I’ll have more time to focus on their needs and to find ways I can help them but still have a small connection to a workplace I have loved.

In so doing, I feel strongly that I’ll receive more than I’m giving because I have a chance to invest in a new generation. I’m finding it personally satisfying to share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned with a small group of mid-career women in a male dominated field so that they can be encouraged and grow. The possibilities for them and for me are limitless and right now I’m engaged and excited about this new chapter!

Retirement Checklists

Do you love checklists?  Some people do but many people don’t!  Right now I’m finding them very helpful for my retirement planning. Before I started this process in earnest, I wasn’t aware that there were these kinds of tools to help the prospective retiree.

Initially, I made my own checklist of things to learn.  This included books and articles to read, podcasts to listen to (which is how I found RockYourRetirement.com), and webinars to watch.  I also made a number of calls to professionals who were more than ready to assist a future retiree like me.  Everyone is so patient and seems to understand that we are all “first-timers.”

However, fairly recently I came upon two checklists that were very helpful. I’m not sure how I missed them early in the process, but I’m happy I found them.  I printed both of these and over the past month, I have worked my way down each checklist.

The first was on my own employer’s webpage.  https://snohomishcountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/32013/Employee-Retirement-Guide?bidId=

While this Retirement Guide and the Checklist in Section 8 is specific to Snohomish County, it is likely that if your employer is large enough you will find something similar.  Check with your Human Resources department or use this one as a starting point. Even if you don’t have anything available like this, I think all of the information could be helpful to you for planning purposes.

The second was on my state retirement system webpage.  https://www.drs.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/checklist.pdf

What I found notable is that it begins 1-2 years before you actually retire.  Then it guides you through the steps over a period of months until you have a list of what to do 30-90 days before the big day.  My favorite box to check is the very last one that says – “Enjoy your Retirement”.

Last week, as I looked through the county checklist I noticed that I missed a check box.  It was for “Schedule a Retirement Meeting” with your human resources generalist. I realize now I should have done this much earlier.  Jaime was amazing.  She was helpful and cared about me and the process. Her job is to make sure I understand everything and get all of my questions answered. She is my primary contact with my employer and will facilitate the processing of my final documents.

Things to do before retirement

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Before the meeting, I sent her a list of questions. I found the time we spent together extremely valuable. She even gave me a target date to submit my final letters and documents. One comment I have consistently heard is, “I wish everyone started earlier in the process as you have. It would be so much better if people realized that it takes time to take care of all of the details.”

I’ve learned that there are numerous decisions to be made, many forms to complete, and several steps in the process. Not feeling pressured to make quick decisions that could have huge financial consequences is just one of the benefits of using a retirement checklist. Another is having a comprehensive list to work from so that you have the confidence that you are not missing an important step.

For me, mentally and emotionally, there is something really gratifying about using a checklist as I prepare for retirement.  It has guided my decision making, focused my attention, and allowed me to not worry about missing something. In a few short months, I’ll check that last box and Enjoy my Retirement!

Another Disappointment

Another disappointmentAt the beginning of August, lulled into a sense of hope and possibility, we talked as a family about our annual trip to Mexico (usually Cabo San Lucas). Annually, we all look forward to planning a week in February during the school mid-winter break. At that time last summer, the COVID numbers in Washington and Oregon were the lowest since the crest of the peak in July.  We all imagined we had turned the corner, the vaccine trials were looking promising and we had no inkling of what would come for the fall and winter when we all came inside.

Besides, with airlines and resorts desperate for customers, the cancellation policies were generous and without risk. Initially, it was only going to be the ten of us.  We would join our kids and grandkids for a respite from the winter cold and rain.  My daughters would get a break from cooking meals and cleaning up and we could finally be a family again instead of being locked down. Plus we always celebrate January and February birthdays (mine included) when we are all together.

As we told others about our plans, our numbers grew.  Before the end of August, two other sets of grandparents signed up and made their reservations.  Between my four grandkids – there would be six of us ready to play in the sun and lend a hand in the pool and on the beach.  “Nanny and Pappy”, “Nana and Papa”, “Pa G and Grammy”- at least we all have unique grandparent names!

Then a brother and his family, a cousin and her family, an aunt and uncle and their family, and then some friends who had never been out of the country joined our little travel group. The passports were ordered and ready for stamps. Christmas gifts included backpacks, luggage, flip flops, t-shirts, board shorts, sun-dresses and snorkel gear. I think everyone was excited about the trip!

One day a few weeks ago my son sent me a color-coded spreadsheet with all of the names of our happy travelers.  A total of 33 people!  Unfortunately, I think all of us knew there was a chance we wouldn’t be going this year.

As world events took a negative turn after the election, the number of available ICU beds fell to shockingly low numbers and a new more contagious strain was detected in the United Kingdom. With each new revelation, we all shared a sense of dread. Each one of us struggled with our own decisions and questions began to be discussed.  Should we go or not?  With six people over sixty and fifteen kids aged 4 to 18, we all had an increasing sense of despair.

One person said, “If we go, I don’t think I can cope with the shaming we’ll receive if we post our photos on social media.”  Should we even be going if we feel that way?  A long string of text messages kept going for a few days with everyone weighing in.  

Then the announcement happened.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/airline-news/2021/01/12/covid-test-required-international-passengers-flying-into-us/6640424002/

Beginning January 26, anyone traveling from outside the United States must receive a negative test COVID test 72 hours before arriving and then must quarantine for 10-14 days.  This meant we would need to find a test in Mexico just three days after arrival that would be acceptable to the US government in order to return home three days later.

My son sent another text and said, “Family meeting in the Kitchen, STAT!” This turned into a scheduled ZOOM call the next night and we all reluctantly decided that we just couldn’t take the risk.  Our trip would need to be canceled.

Factors we considered: 

Senior citizen parents in the group and the idea of contracting COVID then seeking medical care or serving a quarantine in Mexico put the risk too high for getting help if we needed it.  

Working parents who don’t have much leave time and the idea of a full quarantine of two weeks after only being gone for one wasn’t remotely workable for most of them.

School-age children, already struggling with virtual learning (Washington and Oregon public schools have been online since March of 2020 when this all started) and then being stuck in Mexico with parents under quarantine didn’t seem like the best idea.

It was almost too easy to hit the cancel button on our plane tickets with Alaska Airlines.  The money was returned to our credit cards and the miles we so excitedly used were returned to our “wallets”.  https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/fly-alaska/why-fly-alaska

The employees at the resort completely understood but were of course disappointed. They have worked very hard to put in place cleaning protocols, masking requirements, and social distancing. They are even working to have on-site testing in place for Americans subject to the travel restrictions.  https://cabo.villadelpalmar.com/care-and-cleanliness

As I think of the months that have flown by between August when we booked our trip to now and then anticipating February, when we thought we would be flying to sunnier days, I probably always knew that we wouldn’t be going.  I believe that looking forward to a fun event, having hope for the future, and regaining a sense of anticipation is a good thing.  Up until the point that it all gets, canceled – again.

What is hard for me is to wonder if we even should have started planning at all.  Some family members want to start planning our next trip and have a high need to “get something locked in on the calendar.” Others are saying, why bother? One person said, “I can’t plan anything right now, I’m so sad.  I’ve decided to just take things one day at a time.  Why make plans at all when they just keep getting canceled?”

I’m finding all of these are great questions and feel a sense of conflict.  I love to plan for the future but I’m not sure I want to experience yet “another disappointment.” For now, I’ll hope that tomorrow, instead of 37 degrees and rain, maybe the sun will come out.

When Dominos Fall

When Dominos FallMy “soon to be” five-year-old grandson loves to play with his dominos.  He painstakingly sets them up in rows and patterns and then asks his mom (my daughter) to take a video and send it to me. He gets so excited when they start to fall and is giddy with laughter as one domino after another clatters to the hardwood floor. Of course, this takes only a few seconds, and then it is all over with. But in his case, the process starts again and he sets them all backup.

My husband and I have been talking about pushing over some dominos as well. But our dominos represent decisions, activities, vehicles, and how we will spend our time in retirement. I suppose I thought by this time we would know exactly how we wanted to set up our dominos. In fact, I thought we would be pushing them over by now. I believed that these decisions would be easy.  For the amount of time we have spent talking about this, I imagined all of our decisions would already be made.

But, that is definitely not the case. In fact, I think we are probably more confused than when we started.  When an idea is just a possibility there is no risk, it is only a conversation. But as the time grows nearer to my retirement it is starting to feel real.

Last weekend, with no plans yet again, the weather bleak, wet and dark, we masked up and visited a local RV dealership.  As we sat on the fold-out sofa, we dreamed about what it would be like to go on the road and see some national parks.  Since I’m learning to golf, we envisioned finding a place to park in a warmer place next winter near some golf courses, walking trails, and maybe a pool.  We poked our heads into a few motor homes and some travel trailers but mostly we sat and talked while inside several 5th wheel trailers.

Everything is on the table for possibilities.  Like a four-legged stool, each of our conversations includes activities, location, desires, and cost. Trying to balance all of these things will hopefully lead us to a “sweet spot” and a decision that we can both support and not regret.

There are so many choices – long term rental, short term rental, resort, RV park, park model, hotel, purchase a second home, RV, or tent camp.  Before we can decide any of this, we have to fully answer some questions.   

What activities do we want to do? Golfing, Biking, Hiking, Skiing, Camping or something completely new? Where do we want to be next winter?  Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, California? How do we envision our day to day life? Traveling from place to place with a camping club, staying at a campground with a pool and access to golf, staying for a week, a month or three months? Will we join people we already know or make new friends along the way?

All of these questions need to be answered in some way before we make a decision that will result in an expensive purchase. The temptation to go out and buy something is strong. The desire to “get started” on our retirement journey is real, and with so many unknowns with the pandemic, we think our choices are limited.  International travel is out and staying in places where there are lots of people (restaurants, hotels, and bars) probably won’t be a great idea for quite some time.

This has to lead us to consider a recreational vehicle, which is precisely how I found myself sitting in a future living room and kitchen of a fifth-wheel trailer. It is self-contained, we can control who is in our unit and when we can prepare our own meals and we can social distance just by shutting the door. Best of all, we can park anywhere we want in the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico when the borders are finally open again.

Originally, I wanted a small, light, weekend travel trailer.  We would buy used to keep the costs down and we could keep our existing pick-up truck. Then the idea When Dominos Fallof snow-birding to Arizona took hold in my husband’s mind. The thought of living in a small trailer for several months turned into the desire for a larger home on wheels.  I understand!  He is 6’6” tall and most trailers are made for people that are 6’ tall.  He can’t stand up in a regular trailer, has to duck through doorways and the beds are too small. His feet go off the end!

Therein lie the dilemma and those falling dominos. Each decision could have a cascading effect on what we do with our time and our financial situation. If we get a larger trailer, then our perfectly good “paid off pick-up” would get traded in for a bigger, heavier, and more expensive vehicle. My husband is even now analyzing gross vehicle weights, dry weight, axle distances, and towing capabilities. After a conversation with our son, he shared, “He thinks I’m over-analyzing all of this.  Do you think so too?” I smiled and said “yes” in my mind and then with my mouth said, “No, take your time, honey, this is a huge decision.” Should we get a new truck or a used one? Should we buy a new 2021 or an older model used 5th wheel?  Which brand of 5th wheel would be the best value and be easier to maintain? What are the reviews for an infinite number of choices?

There is no rush to these decisions. We can do whatever makes sense for us.  But with cold weather days getting a little longer, the promise of spring, and my retirement date coming up quite quickly, it feels like we are under pressure to make a decision. But what is the right decision?

Before we push over a pile of dominos I want to think through where they will land. The problem is my husband is an analyzer and I go with my feelings. We are anxious to get started on this new life and are dreaming of a way to get out of town that is safe and affordable. We just aren’t sure what we are going to do. But that brand new Winnebago we saw sure looks like it could be fun though!

For this week anyway, no dominos are getting pushed over. Unlike my grandson, once they are pushed over, we can't easily set them back up again!

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