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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Looking Retirement in the Eye

I have been thinking about, and looking forward to, retirement for a long time. Not having a rigid schedule to keep, not having to get up at 5 a.m. to exercise and walk the dogs, not having to cram my grocery shopping and other household chores into the all-too-short weekend, and having time to write, take pictures and explore all make the thought of retirement very appealing.

But now that retiring may be a reality in just a couple of months, it suddenly appears a bit less desirable. The significant cut in pay, moving to a new city in a new state, setting up house, learning my way around the city, finding a new doctor, dentist and veterinarian, making new friends -- these realities now seem more than a bit challenging. I've moved before, of course: from Illinois to Maryland and back; from Illinois to California to Texas to California. I even lived in Moscow (yes, the one in Russia) for several months. But things were different then. In some cases, I was married. In others, I was familiar with the area to which I was moving. In all cases, I was considerably younger than I am now. Sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor of my house the day before heading off to my new residence was OK then; not fun, but OK. That isn't even a consideration now, with the bursitis pain in my hips. I'll have to rent a hotel room for my daughter, dogs and me.

Now I am the single mother of a 16-year-old daughter. The responsibility of arranging the move and all its accompanying requirements (setting up utility services, Internet and cable television, registering my car and getting a new driver's license, and deciding on a new medical insurance plan, among other things) is squarely on my shoulders. Of course, I have done all these things before, and I can do them all again. One critical thing still needing to be done is to find the right high school for my daughter.

My daughter will help, and I plan to have professionals pack and move our household items. But we will have to clean our current house to get it ready to go on the market. There is yard work to be done, and the dogs still will require care and attention. Then we have to cram everything we want to carry with us (things the movers won't take such as household cleaners, indoor plants, clothing for the 2-day drive to New Mexico, dog food and bowls, etc.) into my not-so-big car, while leaving at least a little bit of room for two 45-pound dogs.

I have already spoken to my daughter about all the stress we will both be under. I hope that by making both of us mindful of the stress, we will be less likely to lash out at each other. Retiring is in itself stressful; work has been a major part of my life for more than 40 years. My income will drop dramatically. Moving to a new home, even a desirable one, is incredibly stressful. All the work involved in unpacking and setting up a new home is always daunting. But I am lucky, in that my daughter loves to clean and organize, and once she gets started, I just stay out of her way!

There also is a positive side to all of this, of course. I love New Mexico, and I have bought a house that has (as far as I know so far) everything I want in a house: 1 story, nearly twice as much room as my current house, a view of the mountains from the master bedroom and great room, a large kitchen, lots of light, southwestern design touches throughout the house, a large garage, a covered rear patio with fire pit, an enclosed courtyard at the front of the house, and a 1/2-acre lot. And I can't forget the beautiful blue skies of New Mexico. We will be an hour away by car from Santa Fe, even less by train. Old Town Albuquerque isn't far away, as well as the lovely village of Corrales. The Rio Grande is nearby, and we will be about 90 miles from the beautiful Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Preserve. Our new city has all the shops we enjoy, including Trader Joe's. And there are so many historical sites and wilderness areas I want to explore.

I am a list-maker, so I've started making lists of things to be done and people to notify of our new address. I've also started counting down the days until my projected last day of work. As the days click down oh so slowly, it becomes harder and harder to go to work.

Time is moving slowly, but the finish line should be well worth the long time it has taken to reach it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Learning to Let Go

I have been feeling 'discombobulated' lately, somewhat adrift, and thinking that my life is out of control. I am waiting to retire until my daughter graduates from a school in Utah and returns home. Then we will move to New Mexico and start a new life together, with me being a full-time mom. It's something to which we are both looking forward.

I am a planner and an organizer. I like to, as they say, have all my ducks in a row. I don't do well with a lot of uncertainty. But uncertain is the status of my life at the moment. I can't put my house on the market yet, because I don't know when we will be ready to move. I can't give my New Mexico house sitter 30 days notice for the same reason. I can't arrange for the packers and movers without a firm move date. I can't submit my retirement paperwork yet because I can't yet set a firm retirement date.

So finally, the light bulb came on, dim as it may be. My frustration about the uncertainty in my life boils down to control. I am trying to control things that cannot be controlled, and to change things that cannot be changed. I cannot control when my daughter will graduate from her school and move back home. It isn't up to me. There is nothing I can do to hasten her graduation. Until she has a graduation date set, I can't set the wheels in motion to hire a mover, notify my house sitter, submit my retirement paperwork, or anything else. This is all out of my control. This process cannot be changed. Try as I might, there is nothing I can do to hasten the start of this chain of events.

I should know this by now. I read a book several years ago at the suggestion of a friend. It's called Gifts from Eykis, and the underlying message is that I am in charge of how I feel, how I react, which emotions I express and how I express them, but nothing else in life. I cannot control others, or my job or the stock market or anything else. I have a sign on my monitor at work and on the refrigerator at home: "Who's in Charge?" I put those little signs there as a reminder that I am in charge only of myself. Nothing or nobody else is under my control. People who see the little sign on my computer monitor often think it refers to being the boss or in charge of the office. No, it refers simply to 'who is in charge' of my emotions. I am.

So I need to stop fretting and feeling out of control, focus on doing what I can to prepare for our move, and let things unfold as they will. My daughter will progress at her own rate; she will graduate when it is time. All I can do is continue to prepare my house for sale, use as many of my canned goods as possible so I don't have to move them (or they will go to the food bank), continue to get rid of unwanted items, and try to prepare myself as much as possible for my daughter's homecoming, transition and life at home again, and let it go.

I also believe that I need to have trust, or faith. I need to trust that my life will unfold as it is meant to unfold. There will be delays and detours in my plans, difficult lessons to be learned, mistakes to be made and the inevitable setbacks. But there will be helpful lessons to be learned from each delay, detour and setback if I will but be open to receiving those lessons. There will be a benefit, often something I never had imagined.

I need to relax, let my life unfold at its own pace, be prepared for whatever lies ahead, and be open to embrace the future and all its possibilities.

A simple lesson, but one that is hard to remember and even harder to implement.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

Walking the dogs at 5:15 one recent morning, and feeling rather cranky due to a poor night's sleep, I again became aware of how much sound impacts me. The only good thing about being up and out so early is the quiet typically prevalent at that time of day. But on that day, I was denied my longed-for silence. For some reason, the streets seemed especially busy. I hate the sound of traffic at any time of day, but especially early in the morning. The passing diesel pick-up truck was especially obnoxious that morning as it grumbled down the deserted street.

I live in a very noisy neighborhood, with houses close together and several busy streets nearby. I constantly feel bombarded by noise, particularly during warm weather when the windows are open. A major expressway is just a few blocks away; there are sirens (fire, police and ambulance) blaring several times a day. The airport is less than 10 miles away. My house is very close to a Little League baseball field, and soon every evening and all day Saturday and Sunday I will be subjected to the droning public address system and the incessant honking of horns as people remotely lock their vehicles along my street. Even at work, there often is a helicopter hovering not far outside my office window, as the pilot tests software designed to control the swinging of a heavy payload being lifted and moved. How I long for the quiet of my New Mexico neighborhood!

But some loud sounds are truly enjoyable. Strangely enough, I enjoy the deafening roar of a U-2 high-altitude plane taking off, afterburners aglow as it shoots into the heavens. Same with the noise of the Harrier, a vertical take-off and landing jet.

Aside from music (classical, acoustic guitar, smooth jazz in general and saxophone music in particular), one of my favorite sounds is of a whale exhaling as it breaks the ocean's surface after a long dive. And although I no longer play tennis, I still enjoy the sound of a well-hit tennis ball flying off the racket's sweet spot. Of course, the best sounds of all are totally natural: the breeze blowing through pine trees; birds chirping and insects buzzing; water rushing over rocks in a stream; the sound of waves crashing on the shoreline; a thunderstorm rumbling overhead.

Sometimes it isn't the sound, but the absence of sound, that is so pleasant. Although I have a major loss of hearing in one ear, the acuity of my 'good' ear is better than average. And I suffer from tinnitus, a constant ringing in my ears, so my world is never truly silent. Still, the absence of external sound can be wonderful. I love hiking in places where I hear only the sounds of nature, where there is no traffic, no people chattering, no lawn mowers or leaf blowers to disturb the sounds of silence.

Silence seems such a rare commodity in today's world. From cell phones to 24-hour news channels and endless choices of television and radio stations, our world is filled with cacophony. Many people feel uncomfortable sitting in silence with another person. They seem to feel compelled to fill the void with talking, whether they have anything to say or not. Some people cannot stand to be at home without the television running 'for background noise.'

I enjoy a quiet house. I do not need, nor do I want, some electronic noise polluting my space all the time. I will put on a CD or turn the television on, but only if there is something I want to listen to or watch. I enjoy the quiet of reading, listening to the pounding rain, hearing the gentle breathing of my dogs as they sleep.

Are people today afraid to be alone with their thoughts? Is it so difficult to be surrounded by quiet, to appreciate the sounds of nature, of our own breathing? We need to slow down and listen to the world around us.