It has been six weeks since I chose some words that identified my personal values. I thought creating a Vision Statement for Retirement from these words would be easy and quick. It definitely has not been either of those. I shared some values that were important to me, the values my husband chose, and where we overlapped in a previous blog entitled, “Embrace the Journey.”
When life is filled with tension and stress, I really struggle with thinking clearly. With all that has been going in the world with the pandemic, political and social unrest, and some of the challenges my children and grandchildren are facing, it has been difficult to focus on creating a vision for retirement.
I’ve been learning that if I get stuck I just need to keep moving forward and let things unfold naturally. The reason I was struggling is that I wanted my husband to write his own vision and then I thought we would write one for us a couple. I’m in this “in-between world” of working and being fully occupied 50 hours a week but at the same time looking forward to my retirement date. I want to get this all planned, but can’t because of the pandemic.
But thanks to some of the Rock Your Retirement podcasts I finally recognized my problem. Since all of our plans have been canceled or delayed I was looking for a project. My husband mentioned building raised beds for a garden. Without really thinking about it, I dove into “helping” him. You can imagine how that went. I started putting seed orders in carts online (thank goodness I didn’t press order). I got out graph paper and starting drawing plans, identifying where irrigation would go and coming up with a budget. One night I nearly pushed the button for a $2500.00 greenhouse that was sold out and on backorder so that it would be here before spring!
I gained an insight into some of the challenges we’ll face when I actually do retire. He has been retired for three years and keeps things up at home. I’ve been working all these years and as a director, I’m in charge. As two firstborns, vying for power and control, this won’t go well if we are stressing about something as innocuous as whether to plant a garden.
After a long Sunday morning conversation, he helped me to see that I was taking over his project. While he appreciated my help, he didn’t want to be on a schedule, didn’t want to create a plan, and didn’t want to get started immediately. He wanted to enjoy the process. I was focused on getting the garden in the ground- right now!
Following our conversation, I had an “aha” moment that helped me get unstuck. I was trying to impose what I wanted and not listening to him. While I had good intentions, it finally occurred to me that I really didn’t want a garden. The only reason he was considering it was because we won’t be able to go anywhere and it would be something to do while we wait out the pandemic. I’m still holding out that we can travel again so I’m still not sure I want something that will tie us to staying home.
So I took a walk and thought only about what my vision for retirement would be. I needed to quit trying to get him to do something for himself (he is already happy) or even write down something together. This is my purpose, not necessarily his, and once I focused on that, it took less than five minutes to write my first draft. It is part reality and part aspiration and definitely subject to revision in the future. But for now, it is good enough!
My purpose in retirement:
My greatest ambition is to please Jesus above all else.
I will continue to love and be loyal to my best friend and husband.
I am full of gratitude for my family and friends.
I embrace adventure and travel for the opportunity to learn and grow.
I am kind, thoughtful, and compassionate towards those in need.
I focus on my physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being so that I can bring joy to others through service in my community.
My next step is to figure out which of the activities I have planned will align with this purpose. Then I’ll need to decide how they align with the “10 Secrets for Creating and Living a Fulfilling Retirement.” I just hope it won’t take me six weeks to do this step. Even if it does, I’m determined to enjoy the process of planning for retirement. With a little over 4 months to go, I think I have time.
During the pandemic, we’ve been called upon lately to help with teaching our grandkids. Usually, this is when one of our children just can’t make school align with their work schedules. I’m more than happy to take time off but there are still challenges with learning in a virtual environment and keeping the kids engaged.
Early in the pandemic, my son was helping with reading to his 1st and 2nd graders. They just weren’t very interested that day in what they were reading. He called and asked, “Nana, could you write a story for the kids about your trip in 2001 when you and Dad hiked through the Grand Canyon?”
“Sure,” I said! I’ve never written a story for elementary school kids but I understand their reading level and vocabulary. One day while I was walking the dog, I dictated the highlights of the story on my phone and sent myself an email. Then I transcribed my story into nine short chapters with a big font. I emailed the story to their parents, they hit print and the kids started reading a chapter a day. It was easy and the kids loved it. They asked great questions and have decided they would like to hike in the Grand Canyon themselves someday. I wrote the story this past spring when we thought everything would be back to normal by the end of summer and schools would open again.
Now it is late fall and it doesn’t appear our kids here in Washington State will go back to school at all this year. Since I’m unable to do the things I had planned, I’m looking for a new project. Recently I thought of some other stories to write down. Since we can’t be together for the holidays and I have taken a few vacation days, I certainly have the time now!
For each of my four grandchildren, I was privileged to be able to be right by the side of both my daughter and daughter-in-law when the kids were born. Given the timing and distance for a child’s arrival, I feel blessed and a little lucky that I was able to participate during such an important experience. I understand that as a grandparent I have a unique perspective that can be shared in an oral story. But with all oral stories, sometimes over the years, the details are forgotten.
During these dark, wet, days of fall and early winter, I’m spending time on my “Birth Story” project. I have a rough draft of each of their stories. This week I asked their moms to email me a set of photos. I asked for a picture of them during their pregnancies, a photo of the new baby, one of the parents with the newborn, and some photos of the grandparents and visitors, and finally, one of them coming home from the hospital.
I’ll be using an online photo application to put the text together with pictures and I will print each one of them a book that they can read now about the day they were born. I hope it is something they will keep for the future. If I stay focused, I hope I can have these done by Christmas.
I’m trying to make the best of the extra time I have because now so many things have been canceled. My hope is that someday I can look back on 2020 as a moment in time that I was able to share the story of the day my grandchildren were born. If I don’t write all of this down, who will?
Do you have some new projects that you are working on during the pandemic? I would be interested to hear what you did in 2020 or have planned for 2021. Share in the comments, I’m always looking for some ideas!
This Thanksgiving will be very different for our family this year. For the first time in my entire life, I will not be with my large extended family or even with my own children and grandchildren. Our kids made the decision for us following the news that the number of cases in our state and especially in our county have increased exponentially. They said, “It just isn’t safe for us to be together this year.” In fact, the term “skyrocketing” has hit home and has a new meaning. When I look at the graphic that shows our county numbers, the first two waves look like tiny rolling hills. Starting a few weeks ago, our numbers shot straight up, just like a NASA rocket heading for orbit with a completely vertical line. We are, at the time of this writing, experiencing more than 10 times the numbers of daily cases as we did at our peak in March and April.
I imagine that for most women, the holidays of the past were mixed blessings. Yes, it is a time for seeing family, gathering around a table for a meal, and enjoying time together. But for many of us, it means cleaning the house, scrubbing toilets, setting the table, shopping for and then cooking massive amounts of food, and then cleaning it up. All just in time to get going on all of the Christmas activities.
It has been so long since I have seen my extended family and this Thanksgiving was an anticipated occasion to catch up with everyone. But with several of our family members at both ends of the age and health spectrum, some are in their 80’s and then we welcomed two precious baby twin girls this spring, no one wants to take any chances.
At first, upon realizing there would be no Thanksgiving for us and that the two of us would continue to stay home alone, I was anxious and frustrated. But now I’ve chosen to be content and grateful this holiday season. We are safe, warm, have plenty of food and a roof over our heads.
Recently, I was thinking of times when I haven’t had access to water. There have been camping trips where I’ve needed to haul water for a distance, pour it into a pot, and boil it on a stove to do dishes, cook or even wash my face. It is so easy, when I have instant water availability, to take this gift for granted. Whenever I return home from a short weekend without water, I have a sense of relief and gratitude for the blessing that is fresh, clean water.
I’ve also been thinking about the darkness when the power goes out. In the Pacific Northwest, we have lots of trees. We are known as the “Evergreen State” because of our huge forests of Douglas fir and Cedars and inches and inches of rain. Our temperate rainforest climate grows really tall trees. But in the fall and winter, storms from the Pacific Ocean hit our coast and Cascade mountain range and those trees blow down causing power failures. Sometimes we are in the dark for a few hours, other times it can be several days, and a few times during extreme storms, we have been without power for a week!
Fumbling around in the cold and dark, lighting candles, and using flashlights to read all make me appreciate what our pioneer forefathers experienced every day. When I try to get dressed, put on makeup, or prepare a meal it is so much harder without power. During the darkness, I yearn for light and warmth, and consciously realize that it is easy to take power and light for granted when it is gone.
This Thanksgiving season, I’m choosing to think about the pandemic and the fact that we can not safely celebrate and be together as a sort of power failure. Yes, I’m missing time with children and grandchildren and all the traditions we created as a family for generations. I feel a loss of human connection, a sense of sadness, and a bit of regret. But I know that eventually the power will get turned on again. Just like the linemen and women who work through the storms for long hours to restore the power, I know that there are countless health workers and scientists working through the night to restore our world to health. Will we look back on 2020 with sadness, frustration, and anger, or are we looking forward to the day when we can resume the activities we love? Will I appreciate this time of quiet, solitude, and a moment to contemplate the life I have? Will I be grateful when the tide turns and we get a vaccine widely distributed? Or will I move on again with the busy life I lead and lose my sense of gratefulness?
For now, I am trying to be patient. I know there are thousands of people working on our behalf to turn the “lights back on.” Not having a Thanksgiving family gathering for one year out of my life will make next year’s celebration so much sweeter. May I never forget what a blessing it is to be together with our friends and family during the holiday season.
I have had my eyes opened to what it is like to be a parent of a young pre-school or school-age child during a pandemic. With schools remaining closed for elementary students in Washington and Oregon and probably no option for re-opening anytime soon, I have been called upon to stand in the gap for my family. There have been moments recently when I struggled with the idea of retiring earlier than I had planned, just to help out and go back to school to help teach. I also feel compassion for my co-workers and employees with school-age children and feel frustrated I can do little more than be patient, empathetic, and compassionate in understanding their situation.
My daughter asked for help during the summer for mid-September, so that we could plan for the first few weeks of school that corresponded to the opening of her community college, where she works. I took a week of vacation and learned the hard way how difficult this is for young working moms. We worked through it, but it was so challenging to help my 7-year-old grandson get re-logged in 5 – 10 times an hour. It was mind-numbing to sit and listen as just taking role required nearly 30 minutes all while the teacher patiently taught little kids how to mute and unmute microphones on their iPad. In those first few days, everything was new, bandwidths were inadequate and technology challenges were overwhelming.
After that experience, I came back with a new appreciation of what some of my employees are experiencing. One of my employees is a single mom with three kids, a pre-schooler, 1st grader, and third grader. She was given a special project and one day when she was meeting with her manager, our deputy director, and me, we got a view into her world. As she facilitated the first 20 minutes of our meeting, things went well. Then all of a sudden something shifted in her house and the kids were on break from virtual online school. The noise got louder and louder and then a small stuffed animal appeared over her shoulder. We were on a Zoom call so we all started laughing. Then a little four-year-old girl’s curly head popped up and she made a funny face. Our employee was mortified and we told her – don’t worry about it. Before the meeting ended her daughter was in her lap helping with the presentation!
My computer wasn’t working recently so I needed to call the Help Desk in our Information Technology Department. We are all working from home, so when we started the call I could hear his two screaming kids. I asked the young man who was assisting me if he needed to go help them and he said no. He said, “This is what it is always like.” He shared that his wife is a registered nurse, working on the front lines at the local hospital and that this is his life now. He offered to mute them while he was working on my problem but I told him I was a patient Nana – no problem. I cannot imagine what his life is like, he seemed resigned to the situation. There is no school and no daycare so this is just the way it is.
My daughter in law is also a registered nurse and works part-time. My son asked for help if we could give it, so the last few Thursdays we have been traveling to their home, spending the night and assisting during the day teaching our grandkids. When you are on virtual school duty with a 1st and 2nd grader your role is equal parts help desk and alarm clock. Things happen, there are disconnects and the kids are not on the same schedule. They go in and out of zoom calls all day and in between they are navigating various software programs and applications, taking pictures of their work, and uploading assignments. My husband joined me and did a science lesson on River Otters and I brought art supplies for a watercolor class. We made homemade Mac and Cheese for lunch and by the end of the day, I was exhausted.
My takeaway from these experiences is that our children and grandchildren and friends and acquaintances need retired folks now more than ever. As retirees, we have the flexibility to help during this time of pandemic and I think we should. Our young families are carrying heavy burdens. Our future workers are not receiving the education they need and deserve. Even if you can’t navigate this new virtual world, I think it would be great to ask, How can I help? What can I do? I know my kids appreciate anything we can do. Picking up groceries, making a meal, helping with the laundry, cleaning up the house, taking kids to a park, reading them a book or going for a walk are just a few ideas that your kids would appreciate. If this pandemic is still raging in the spring and my grandkids are not back in school, this Nana is ready to jump in wherever I’m needed. I think making the education of our kids a priority is just what this country needs right now.
As I watch the calendar slip into Fall for the year, I think the changing season could be a metaphor for how I’m feeling these days. In early summer, I made the decision to retire and chose a date for the following spring, exactly three months after the New Year arrives. With a pandemic underway, saying hello to 2021 and putting 2020 in the rearview mirror, seemed like an exciting prospect at the time. I announced my impending retirement, right in the middle of summer when everything looked sunny and bright and exciting. My ideas then for retirement were green with possibility.
As reality has set in, thinking about retirement has become quite messy. I think I’m more confused and unsettled than I’ve ever been. Like a roaring wind and rain storm, the leaves of my life started blowing around. Now they are all on the ground. My husband and I have spent hours picking up the real piles of leaves in our yard. In our younger years, we planted lots of maple trees for fall color. Now those trees a huge. We have been blowing and raking and dumping leaves every weekend and they are still falling. I have considered this as an image of my past working life. The tasks I once found so important are now falling away. My schedule and duties and responsibilities are falling off my outlook calendar. I’m either finishing short term projects or letting go of ideas I once thought of as important. I’m not starting anything new and I’m handing off many elements of my job to others who will step into my role. Things are flying around at work and in my yard, so I feel a bit untethered.
I have no illusions that this winter will be hard. Our state numbers for the virus are skyrocketing. Our hospitals are filling up. Plans for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, where we usually gather together with family and loved ones, are being deemed too dangerous. Even more plans are being canceled and our governor is talking about drastic steps and more lock-downs. Just thinking about this makes me sad and tired.
Winter has been compared to the end of our lives. It can be a metaphor for death. It is a time of quiet, darkness, and contemplation. We draw near to a blazing fire or a candle for warmth and look for light in the darkness. In the winter, we may hibernate, relax, or sleep.
But when spring comes, it can be a metaphor for a new life. Spring brings growth and regeneration, especially after a long, cold, wet pacific northwest winter. In the springtime, seedlings, and plants shoot up again, snow drops pop up and tulips and daffodils emerge from their sleep.
What will I do now to settle in after a crazy fall? Will I take the time to consider all I have to be grateful for this winter season? Will I ever be really ready to leave the place I’ve spent my waking hours every workday for 44 years? Am I open to the new possibilities that freedom from my commitments will allow? Will I emerge with a renewed spirit when spring is finally here?
While I love the color of the tree in my front yard, I think I’m ready to leave the confusion I am feeling and move into a new season of my life.
One of my goals for retirement was to explore art. I decided to start now but start small and ordered some inexpensive watercolor paint sets and some brushes and paper. What started as something new to try for me has turned into so much fun with my grandkids.
This past summer we invited each set of two grandchildren (we have four total) up for nearly a week for what we called “Nana Camp.” I’ll tell my Nana Camp stories in a future blog but one of the most enjoyable activities we did was “art class.”
I am not an artist but discovering YouTube has been nothing short of amazing. I ordered on Amazon and in a few days, I had everything I needed. Once you have your supplies, you can just search for “watercolors for beginners” and there are hundreds of 5 – 15 minute step by step tutorials to choose from. I usually set up everything for the kids (and even my husband) on the countertop. When the paint, the paper, and the water are all ready, we just push play on a video. Some videos have relaxing background music and others have the artist explaining what they are doing. It is easy to follow along and start and stop as needed.
We usually begin with one painting and then the kids want to do another one and then they want to “free form” and paint whatever they want. I think those art projects are my absolute favorite. I get to see their creativity and what they are thinking about. They can’t wait to share their art with their parents when they get home from work
I’ve shared on the podcast that with virtual school due to the pandemic and my kids needing help that I’ve been taking time off to assist when work schedules aren’t lining up well for my children. Every time I come, we add “art class” to the curriculum. It is relaxing and fun and uses a different part of our brains than reading and math.
Our conversations are rich and in the end, we have something to put on the wall or a postcard to send to a friend or family member. I’m learning that in retirement, for just a few dollars, I can have hours of enjoyment with my kids and grandkids as we learn together to “paint with watercolors”.