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Lessons from a Butterfly Cake

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Sometimes, it takes a while to “get it.” I learned that via my two-year old granddaughter’s birthday cake a few days ago.

I’ve coveted the role of designated birthday cake baker for four years now—ever since her older sister turned one.  But, alas, I am not the only grandma, and I’ve somehow ended up second in line until this most recent birthday.  So when I got to do this cake, I was ridiculously excited.

I have done plenty of birthday cakes.  I’m from a family of nine; I started making birthday cakes before I was ten.  Plus I made my own kids’ cakes.  But my children are sons.  I’ve done trucks and volcanoes and even manufactured enough fake pies for a birthday pie fight one year.  But I’ve never had the chance to make a little girl’s cake.  I really wanted to make a butterfly cake.

If you cut a round cake layer in half and then cut each half again on the diagonal so one piece is twice as big as the other, when you lay the four pieces on a tray with the curves on the inside and the small pieces below the big ones–ta da!–you have a butterfly.  Thank you, Internet.

But, of course, stopping with just frosting that in some pretty color wasn’t enough. A butterfly needs a body…and a head…and antennae.  I wanted those parts to look more real than the piece of stick candy the original pattern called for.  And the wings had to be beautiful, which meant colored sugars in the perfect hues and assorted sizes of colored candies.

I searched the baking and candy aisles at two grocery stores, the cake decorating section of two craft stores, the candy aisle at Toys R Us (a bonanza—unless you are into childhood nutrition), and the food section of an import store looking for this stuff.  It is not an exaggeration to say I spent more time trying to find the perfect materials for that cake than I did buying a couch.

Eventually, I hit on the idea of shaping pieces of cooked spaghetti into really cool antennae. They hold shape nicely once dry.    (They were probably the healthiest thing on the cake, too, since it was whole wheat spaghetti.)  I flattened neopolitan coconut candy with a rolling pin and cut circles for the head using an antique bouillon tube my mom kept for cutting donut holes.  By stacking four circles on top of each other, I could secure the antennae and eyes (candy coated, chocolate covered sunflower seeds).

The razzle dazzle, orange sparkly, store-bought decorating sugar looked like cellophane shreds on a trial run, so I de-emphasized that in the “wing design.”  I scuttled the sprinkles because the colors were too garish.  I ended up custom dyeing granulated sugar in an attempt to get just the right hues.  For five days, my highest priority was that cake.

All went well with the baking, frosting, etc.  I sorted candies by color and applied them one small piece at a time with a jeweler’s pliers. I put candy coated sunflower seeds around the base for extra effect.  I added more candy dots on the wings.  I fussed with it.  And fussed with it some more.  I was way past “overboard” by the time I decided I was finished.

And when it was done?   It was…well….just a cake.  A cake that looked like a butterfly.  A cake that was just a small piece of a fun day for an adorable little girl.  The two pink candles were blown out with wide-eyed innocence.  It tasted fine.

The cake served its purpose well.  But I felt oddly off balance.  Why I didn’t feel better about what I’d spent so much time creating?

Then I finally got it.  The obsession hadn’t been about a perfect cake for my granddaughter.  A burst of wild creativity had inundated me once the dam of “permission” had been breached. I didn’t need to be a grandma to make that cake.  I just needed to let myself “go play.”

I was happy I got to do Cora’s cake, but sad that I waited so long to bake a butterfly.

I liked being part of helping my granddaughter turn two.  But even better, I will bear no resentment if the other grandma wants to make all the cakes from here on.  She does it well.   (We’ve had a ladybug, a sand castle, a princess, and a fairy castle, all beautifully done.)  I don’t need “my turn” doing the girls’ birthday cakes.  My priority will be to encourage their own creativity.  The best way to start with that is to not wait for permission to indulge in creative play myself.

 

How Do I Fit This In?

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Once fulltime work is in the rearview mirror, getting the things you want done personally should be easier, right? If you want to do a certain thing, you just use your time on that, and ta da! you accomplish it.  That’s not been my experience with the freedom we’re blessed with in retirement. There’s a lot more room for waffling at this stage of the game and some very good reasons that keep the productivity level low.  That piece of this puzzle is a big challenge for me.  Especially at the moment.

I am a writer.  I need to write.  I know that.  I want to do that.  Earlier in retirement, I wrote first thing in the morning.  Once I had the “important work” done, I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of the day.  I got a lot of writing done that way.  But I was seeing my life through the old “career” lens–where work trumps everything else and automatically claimes the top of the list–and, for me, the top of the morning.

I’m finally growing past that, and it’s creating an unexpected frustration.  I want to live each moment of the day well instead of focusing on what I accomplish as the measure of the day’s success now.  That’s positive, but it’s creating a negative ripple with my writing.  I do other things first in the morning now–things that nurture me at the soul level and that I need to do then.  Things that let me start the day with myself squarely in the center of it.  That means I need to fit writing into a different part of the day.  I haven’t been doing so well at that.

I’ve also discovered that I need a much larger dose of fun than I’ve existed on in the past.  (That’s the absolute best way to “live the Now.”)  That means I’m likely to be doing social things rather than writing in the evening far more often.   (This week, that has been the case four days straight.) Before, I would write in the evening and get even more done.  That’s not the case anymore either.

So how do I find a new routine that gives me what I need for my writing?

Just telling myself to do it the old way doesn’t work–that’s a big step backward.  And not bothering to find that new writing routine isn’t an option either–I am not a happy person when I don’t write.

I’m still figuring this out, but some interesting pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place in the last couple days.  I’ve been ignoring an important clue.  I’ve noticed there are parts of my day that are empty and/or boring.  Time spent watching TV news programs for example.  I can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world without ingesting two minutes of ads for every minute of content.  So the time I have been using for the news can be for writing.

I’ve also noticed another void later in the evening.  I’ve thrived on 7 hours of sleep since I was a teenager.  Some medical expert said you really need to get at least 8, so I decided I needed to do that.  Every night, I tell myself it’s time for bed. ThenI  diddle around doing not-much-of-anything for that “extra” hour rather than really using it.  That particular hour may not be fore writing, but doing something relevant then will free up time at some other point in the schedule.  I’ve just caught on to this search for the “empty spaces.”  I suspect I will find more.

Plus I can now see that it’s wise to look at the intensity of my commitment when I am writing.  There’s writing and there’s writing….just like there’s skiing and skiing!  If I am on fire with what I’m doing, I am going to use the time I do have a lot better.

That intensity is also likely to motivate me to “find time” every day that’s beyond what I set aside for writing on a routine basis.  Doing that is probably every bit as much a part of living the Now as opting for fun whenever I can.

I’m finally gaining on this!  To live retirement well, I don’t want to get too locked in.  But I don’t want my life falling out all over the place because I don’t have the structure I need either.  I want to be flexible–but not derelict.  That means coming up with new ways of getting what I want done without stamping out the progress I’m making on living in the moment.

Stay tuned.

 

Get In (or Out) of the Habit…

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Recently a friend insisted I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. What a good friend.  Duhigg deciphers the eternal question of why we do what we do as habit–and translates the physiology and psychology of it into language we can all use to make sense of our lives.

For starters, we can’t totally get rid of those bad habits.  Just willing ourselves not to do that thing anymore usually doesn’t make that change happen for the rest of our lives.  Sometimes, the attempt fails from the get-go.  And when you do pull it off initially, quite often you find yourself right back in the old habit when things get stressful.  (“Mom isn’t doing well with this surgery.  I need a cigarette just this one time….”  Or “Work is insane, and I’ve done a great job of getting rid of that 15 pounds.  I can have a donut….”  We can’t erase old habits, but we can modify them.  Duhigg clarifies that distinction and demonstrates how.

When we get to the point we can “give up work,” habits can become particularly frustrating.  The ones that structured our lives for the sake of doing the job are no longer needed.  Those good habits don’t go away either.  Sometimes, they turn into not-so-good habits in the new context.  During your career years, work came first.  You’re used to getting things done on the job before anything fun even hits the radar.  If you’re giving whatever you’ve substituted for that work the same kind of priority, you’re going to find yourself cleaning the garage on a glorious spring day instead of taking your golfing buddy up on a spontaneous round.  Same deal with fun.  If you’re used to going to the casino every Friday night as entertainment because it was what helped you unwind after the work week, you might be ruling out things that would be even more fun for Friday night because you’re coming from habit instead of conscious choice. (And you may be missing out on fun that happens at the casino venue on other nights of the week.)

Habits help us do what we want to get done.  They are formed and perpetuated in a different part of the brain than conscious choices.  They are far more automatic.  Once in place, you can count on them.  They happen even when you have gotten into one of those maddening “indecision interludes” when even deciding which pair of socks to put on in the morning results in second and third guesses.  Good habits help create the “Good Life” when you’ve retired and the whole day (and week and month and year) is up to you.

We have learned an amazing amount about what happens physically to create a habit.  There’s also a huge body of work about the psychology of human motivation that comes into play.  Duhigg explains all of that well, and it’s worth the time to read just for that.  But he also addresses what most of us really want to know:  How can I have better luck dealing with my own habits–both the bad ones I want to change and the good ones I want to add?

We are all “creatures of habit.”  Willpower enters into the equation, but so does knowing what triggers the behavior and why you find it rewarding.   You can change things more effectively if you understand the process and the pieces of the puzzle.  Duhigg didn’t write the book just for the retirement scenario.  But when we get to making that transition, paying attention to our habits and tweaking them to serve us better in the new territory is a major plus.  If you want to address that challenge, The Power of Habit might make it a lot easier.

 

Repeat Performance: The Benefit of Experience

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

This post came down a couple years ago because the spambots would just not leave it alone.   It’s a fun post and we seem to have the spambots at bay–time to put it back in view.  MBL

Last weekend was Oktoberfest at my local fairgrounds. It was a bigger deal than I expected–and a much better good time for me personally than you might have guessed. That Oktoberfest had untold delights.

We got there in the late afternoon when the little kids were still allowed on the premises. (I live in a state that does not allow children at public drinking sites.) The music was already oom-pahing along when we arrived–polkas, waltzes, and, of course, the “duck dance” (which no self-respecting adult would do anywhere else). But the best part about the first two hours was watching the little ones do their thing on the dance floor. When you reach “grandparent” age, little ones having fun are precious no matter whose they are. Their dancing is particularly delightful–even when they are just whirling around or plopped in a heap in the middle.

Then there was the tuba player! A two-time national champion. He was good. And I could notice the difference when he played. I spent eight years in Midwest school bands. You need that much experience to recognize good tuba playing.

It got better. The band doing the next set featured an authentic alpenhorn player–a silver-haired sprite of a woman in a dirndl skirt. How she made 15 feet of wood sound that beautiful was miraculous. She had experience.

Later in the evening yet a different band, billed as “the Dixie Chicks of the button box,” took the stage. They were good, too. In a very different way. They were there for the young adults–who probably didn’t have anywhere NEAR as much respect for the cute little blonde leading the band as I did. She plays “an accordian”–an instrument scorned by legions even in my home state of Wisconsin. But she made it hip. The young dancers had major fun–but so did we. And yes, they played The Duck Dance–also the Hokey Pokey!

Four days later, I’m still thinking about that good time. It was a great reminder of what’s good about getting older. Experience gives you so much more depth for processing and appreciating what’s going on right now. Experience reminds you that what was uncool can become cool. That what seems impossible–like playing sweet haunting notes on a horn designed for goatherds–is indeed possible. It helps you set wider boundaries and build more solid bridges.

And the best part? The older you get the more experience you have to work with! Cool. So go have some fun–and let yourself enjoy all that it reminds you of all over again.

This article was previously posted Oct. 8, 2008 but was removed because of technical problems.

What I Learned Buying a House After 60

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Life lessons don’t always come from expected sources. I’m in the process of buying a house.  The lessons I’m learning go well beyond real estate.

For the last 18 months, I’ve lived with my boyfriend in a gated, 55+ community–in a new house he bought three years ago.  That’s been hard for me.  It’s not a lifestyle where I can thrive.  Our trial run at living together was an essential step.  We’ve learned living separately works better for us without having invested in real estate together.  That’s not exactly how “everybody does it.”  So there’s Lesson #1:   The next step for you is not always the one that works best for everyone else.

I sold my last house 18 months ago.  It was time.  I knew that for sure when I got an excellent price and had a done deal in less than a month.  I thought I needed to sell that house because it had a lot of yard—with elevation.  That wasn’t the real reason, but it got me to take action.   Lesson #2:  The reason you act isn’t always the reason you needed to act.

About three months ago, I knew it was time to get back in the game.  But did I need a house?  How about renting instead?  How about a condo?  I moved through this phase fairly quickly once I admitted something everyone in the family already knew.  I am a compulsive gardener.  I need dirt   Rented dirt doesn’t work.  Lesson #3:  Be honest with yourself.

I listed what I wanted in this new house—and promptly sabotaged myself big time.  I rejected my own preferences, telling myself I needed to heed the “prevailing wisdom” about what older people need as housing instead.  I wanted stairs—but what if I needed single-story living later in my life?  I wanted a garden, but what happened if I couldn’t handle the physical demands of that eventually?  This ageist crap clobbered me hard.  I was looking for a house I could “grow old in” and conjuring up all sorts of limiting scenarios.

A conversation with my older son saved me.  When I told him I planned to live in this house for the rest of my life, he laughed—and then told me that wasn’t likely.  I challenged him, thinking he was assuming I would not be able to live on my own for that long.  His reply?  “Mom, you’re a gypsy.  You aren’t going to stay in any house that long.”  Okay, Lesson #4:  Admit who you are.  Let’s throw in Lesson #5, too:  Beware of insidious ageist thinking!

So I learned I needed to buy the house for now.  Then the challenge became where.

I’d told the realtor I wanted to see things in areas I was familiar with, where friends lived and I already knew my way around.  We looked at 43 houses.  None of them came remotely close to fitting the bill.  All were older than I wanted, needed significant updating, and/or had chopped up floor plans that didn’t work for me.  I was thoroughly disheartened.  Time for Lesson #6:  When it’s not working, you need to change something.

I decided it had to be where I was looking that was wrong.  And it was wrong because I was thinking rationally instead of feeling authentically.  When I finally admitted what I really needed and wanted at an emotional level, I realized I needed a new location to explore—but one that was closer to family.  Lesson #7:  Important decisions should start with your heart and be handled rationally after the emotional aspects are clear.

Once I realized I needed to be somewhere new, an amazing thing happened.  I discovered an area that I’d been assuming was “too far away from everything” was actually closer to my family than the places I’d been looking. The homes were of the age I like.  The neighborhoods were a delight for walking.  Right on cue, a house I loved came on the market.  The right size yard.  The right amount of floor space.  The kind of floor plan I love.  So that’s Lesson #8:  Keep going.

I’m still jumping the real estate hoops on the deal—offer, acceptance, inspection, etc.–but I feel really good about this house.  It’s helped me learn so much already.

 

Forward and Back

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

A good dance involves both forward and back. The Dance of Life is the same.  Some of us get hung up on moving forward.  Some of us get stuck in looking back.  But the best comes when you have a bit of both in how you live your days.

Forward is held in high regard–has been for a long time now.  “Youth and progress” started trumping “the way we’ve always done it” when the Industrial Age took over from farming a couple centuries ago.  Moving forward is important.  Babies learn.  Companies grow and become more effective.  Moving up is part of most career plans.  Progress is a good thing.

But forging ever onward at all costs feels too much like a forced march.  There has to be some looking back.  Time to reflect on the mountain you’ve been climbing or the beauty of the sun as it sets behind you.

There’s a difference between looking back and getting stuck in the past though.  It’s tempting with all the forms of awfulness that have manifest lately to yearn for the good old days.  Life was simpler in 1963.  At least for me–I was still in high school and hadn’t experienced the down side of growing up yet.  No lay offs.  No divorces.  No difficult stepchildren.  No boss from hell.  No idiotic Congressional logjams.  Some days it just seems like that life was a better life.  But it really wasn’t.

Still, once we retire the “good ol’ days” can sing a siren’s song.  You start thinking “What would happen if I went back?” to a place that held good times before.  You can go back and live in the  town where you were raised (well, unless it’s been turned into a giant manufacturing facility or is at the bottom of some reservoir).  But you can’t go back and live that life anew.  It will not be the same life, even if you can get all your high school pals to move back with you and you do the very same things that were so cool then.  You are different because of what’s gone on in your life since then.  They are different.  And the town is different, even if it doesn’t look like it. (My hometown sure doesn’t.)

A wiser move is to attempt to re-create what you liked about that time past.  The sense of camaraderie?  The bliss of living near a lake?  What was it about that experience that made it good?  Finding a way to get that in the life you are living now is moving sort of like forward and back at the same time.

Too often, we get stuck in either/or.  But we need both forward and back.  Float on the delight of what’s happening now.  On where you’re going next.  But with a sense of who you are that comes only from looking back at all you’ve come through.

 

Wait? Or Act?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

While we are actively working at “a career”, there is rarely a question about whether we need to make something happen or whether we’re better off waiting for it to happen.

If it’s your job and it’s supposed to happen by a certain time, you’re on it.  If it’s a goal you set for the business, even if it’s your business and you’re the only employee, you get it done.  At home in support of the person earning the paycheck, you still get it done because money you need to live is on the line. But once you leave that world behind, knowing when to act and when to wait is far less cut and dried.

To some extent, this notion that we’re all supposed to sit around doing nothing in retirement is to blame.  There’s no expectation that we’re supposed to get anything done.  To the world, it’s no big deal if you do that thing or not.  It’s almost heresy to think you should be “getting something done.”

If that lifestyle is working for you, great.  But if you’re frustrated that you don’t do the things you say you want to do—or worried you won’t once you retire, look a little deeper for what may be getting in the way.

  •  Are you convinced you need (or want) to do it?  Well, maybe you are today, but then tomorrow it doesn’t look quite as important.  Unless there’s a strong sense of purpose at your core, whether or not you want to put effort into any given action will change day to day.  Find your purpose.
  •  Do you believe you can do it? If it’s something new, your confidence about whether or not you can pull it off will also waiver.  Right now, I am shying away from setting up a new piece to my blog.  It’s very doable, and I need to get it done.  But I’ve found an unbelievable array of ways to avoid it—day after day after day.  My inner wimp is afraid of that work because I’m going to have to be a beginner to do it.  When it’s new, you’re going to feel like a beginner.  It’s wise to make peace with being a beginner again the day you step into retirement if you haven’t already.
  • Are you afraid of something about doing it?  Most of us don’t face physical dangers every day like our ancestors did.  But our brains are still wired for that.  Current day fears are more often based either on things that have already happened or things that might happen.  The part of our brains that triggers fear doesn’t differentiate.  So we are ginning up a lot of fear about things that are already over and non-events that will never happen.  Now is the only time we have for taking action.  Decide based on what’s real now and get on with it.

There’s another piece to this that’s equally frustrating once we retire though.  After so many years where we had to make things happen, it’s harder to see when it would be wiser to wait.

Sometimes, waiting for things to fall into place is a much better solution.  At the moment, I need to find a house.  I’ve been at it for two months; it feels more like ten because I haven’t found anything close to what I want.  Sure, some people really do knock on the front door and ask the owners if they want to sell when they see a house that appeals.

But that’s not what’s called for here.  At least if I am wise.  Every time I go out with my realtor (who is a saint), I learn more about what I like, see features—or issues–that I hadn’t considered, and discover solutions to problems my eventual house might have.  I’m still getting educated on this.  Making the decision before I know all I need to know is not in my best interest. But that doesn’t stop my ego from throwing a tantrum every once in a while.

So how do you know when to not take action?

If you want to take action because it gives you a feeling of control when the situation isn’t yours to control, your action might be a bad idea.  Acting as General Manager of the Universe usually just makes things worse.  Are you desperate for control?  Simmer down and see what else you need to discover about what you’re trying to do.

The time to act is when you’re avoiding what you know you want to do because you’re afraid.  The time to wait is when you want to take action to feel like you control a situation where that’s not the case.

Do Something?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

One of the biggest challenges of retirement is knowing what you really have to do.  Well…the death and taxes stuff is still in place, but there’s so much you can blow off after you decided to do it once your past the career stage.

Even if you’re accustomed to setting goals once a year–or once a month or once a week–and have been really good at making them happen, you are vulnerable on this.  Once you retire, the number of people who care if you get things done is dramatically reduced.  And that means the probability of you getting the things done that you said you were going to do goes down.

The goal setting process we used in business doesn’t work as well here.  The only accountability is to ourselves, so the need to get on with whatever we said we were going to do it a lot less pronounced.  In addition, any thing that looks like “work” becomes suspect.  We’re supposed to be playing, right?

I’m not sure I know what to do about this problem in total.  I do have some clues that have come into focus lately.

1.  If you want to feel like you are “doing something” once you retire, the most important thing to do is define your sense of purpose before you load up your calendar.  Othewise, you end up doing a lot and not feeling like you’ve gotten anything done.  If you don’t know your purpose, experiment for a year or two or even more.  That then becomes your goal–to find your sense of purpose.

2.  The second most important thing to do is to find something you can do every day to honor that purpose.  It doesn’t haven’t to be an eight-hour daily commitment.  Maybe for now, all you need to do is spend ten minutes in the morning visualizing yourself successfully doing the thing you want to do.  But it does have to be daily.  Otherwise, you lose track of what you said you wanted to do very quickly and drift along in the backwater of what everyone else suggests you do–feeling slightly restless and more-than-slightly bored.

3.  It also helps to find an “assistant.”  This isn’t about having someone else do the computer work.  The assistant you need is someone to whom you tell your goal and who then bugs you when you aren’t getting on with it.  At the moment, I am the official poke-in-the-ribs for a friend who wants to get an important document up on her website before she goes on vacation next month.   Last summer, she was my “catcher.”  We agreed I would send her a chapter a week of a book draft I wanted to get done.  She agreed to accept it–and that made a huge difference in how I honored my commitment to finish a chapter a week.

4.  The last piece of this part of the puzzle is to believe in yourself–particularly in the early stages of retirement.  It’s very easy to talk yourself out of what your heart really wants to do.  It is far too simple to just “not do it” because friends dropped by for a surprise visit or your daughter needed help cleaning out a gutter that was flooding her family room.  If you really want to set yourself up to “do something” at this stage of the game, you need to believe that it’s important.  Not just some of the time.  All of the time.

Martha Beck calls the senseless fears that stop us for doing the things we truly want to the Inner Lizard.  These fears are a misfire of what is, for the most part, a survival mechanism from the very first years humans roamed the earth.  Then, we needed to be ready to handle physical dangers on short notice.  Now, that same mechanism manufactures things to be afraid of because the real thing–saber-toothed tigers and such–are no longer part of our experience.  That old brain needs something to be afraid of in order to come up with a strategy for surviving it.  And being afraid is another thing that will keep you from doing that something you really want to do.

Our higher brains–and our hearts–are more accurate beacons for retirement effort.  Most of us are reasonably safe by the time we reach retirement.  The things we worry about quite often don’t even happen.  So instead of that old brain, we need to find a new driver for what we are going to do.

We could do something logical, relying on the frontal cortex instead of the “reptilian brain” at the top of our spines.  But even better is to start from your heart.  Yes, do something.  But choose stuff that makes you smile.  That makes you swell with pride about getting involved in making a difference on something important.  That makes your smarter and more informed today than you were yesterday about something you really want to know.  That makes you feel like you are doing something

Yes.  Do something.  Do set goals.  But make them golden instead of the ordinary stainless steel ones that were good enough while we were on the job.

 

Leave Enough Room for the Kid

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

You think I’m going to talk about your offspring, right? Nope. The kid I want you to make room for is your own kid–the one you used to be before responsibility and adulthood and career and parenting and … made you lose track of him or her.

Once we are well enough off to give up work, we need to find that kid again. To start having regular play dates. To relearn how to have fun without worrying about all the adult things for a few hours.  Being a kid again isn’t just about not being responsible. Being a kid involves creativity, spontaneity, friendship, and yes a bit of mischief.

Go back to having uninhibited fun at least occasionally. Fun that you forgot you knew how to have. Sometimes that involves silliness. Sometimes it involves reconnecting with the people you used to do those kinds of things with. Sometimes it’s just a matter of remembering that you loved doing it as you do it with your grandkids.  Swinging on the swings at the playpark, dancing to music on the radio, stomping in puddles.

To have it happen, you need to leave room for it. Room in your schedule. Room in your physical dwelling. Room in your heart. Please leave room for your kid.

At the moment, I am shopping for my next house. Yes, it does need to be a house. I am a dirt person. My little kid needs a patch of ground where she can plant flowers and vegetables and see what grows this year and try all over again next year.

And it will be a little bit bigger than some might think I need at this stage of the game. Why? Because I also need a messy room. I need a  place where I can start a creative project and leave the mess out so that I can work on it whenever I want without all the rigmarole of getting it all back out from where I stored it.

Many of us do not revel in messes as adults but kids have to have them. (We really need them, too, but we’ve been brainwashed.) This new house is going to be different. In the past, the important thing was to get wherever I lived to look like a home decorating magazine article. That’s nice. When you use the things that mean something to you (and that have “stories”), that effort really is an essential part of feathering a nest.  But it’s not the whole story.

We also need blank spaces–fresh canvas for the things we have yet to create in our lives. The kid in us does not relax with a finely finished room. She needs a place to express herself.  That requires empty spaces and blank pages in the calendar.

If you’ve been living in your space for a long time, this is still true. To make the needed space, do occasional purges (or “sort and pitches” as I call them). Is what’s taking up your space useful? Is it beautiful? Joyful? If it’s none of these things, maybe you need to let it go so you have room for the kid. So much of what we end up displaying is obsolete but still in place. Get rid of everything you don’t really love, so there’s room to grow.

Same deal with your calendar. Are you doing things that are fun? That you feel good about contributing your time to? If you stop doing things that no longer satisfy you, there’s a lot more room to find new things to do. Things your kid will enjoy.

It’s easy to get into serious volunteering when you retire. Watch out for that. The kid is a good giver and an enthusiastic helper, provided you are doing something that’s really you. Adults can fake enthusiasm. Kids cannot.

Retirement is the chance to hit the reset button–to come up with a calendar and a home that match the real you. When you start working on that, be sure you remember the kid. You will enjoy the rest of your life a lot more if you leave that child plenty of room to play.

Retired and on Fire

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

I met supercharged retirement in the flesh yesterday. Cate and Dieter Benz are ablaze with what they believe and what they want to do about it. And they are going in more than one direction with all that enthusiasm.

A few weeks ago Cate emailed me to ask if they could republish a blog post I did on being a good healthcare consumer. At that point, I thought they lived somewhere far away. Turns out they live in the same metro area I do. So we met in person and shared stories over a glass of wine. I came away grinning from ear to ear because what they are doing is what I firmly believe is what we all need to be doing to have satisfying lives once we retire. They are living today with gusto by standing on long-held values and using well developed skills to do something that they believe is important now.

They also seem to have a good sense of how to combine their disparate skills to make a stronger team effort. They are on fire together.

Cate has background in property management and real estate, but has also created bookkeeping software for small business that she currently markets in one of her own small businesses. Dieter made his mark in leadership positions in the automotive and railroad industries and has a weakness for owning historic buildings. While they are still active in those pursuits, their current passion is RestlessBoomers.com, a web resource they are building to help boomers find solid information for navigating that no-man’s-land we call retirement.

They are interesting as a couple, too. This is not a lifelong partnership where they met in high school and have been sweethearts ever since. Though Dieter grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and Cate in Santa Monica, California, they met after they had both moved to the Pacific Northwest. Even then they were willing to use the technology available—they met via an online dating service. (About which, Cate admitted, she had to kiss a lot of frogs before Dieter came on the scene.)

Cate seems to be taking the lead as company nerd, but they are both hot to learn how to use what’s available now in online technology to offer what they are firmly convinced is an essential service for Boomers—a clearinghouse that vets the information before passing it on. Their intent is to provide a trusted resource where boomers can learn of new products and services that they’ve already checked out.

Their vision is to build “a community where millions of likeminded Boomers can share and bond in celebration of accomplishments and struggles while moving forward into the future.” Their mission with RestlessBoomers.com is to help you “achieve exciting new goals and dreams, build confidence, maintain optimum health, grow wealth and obtain true happiness.”

The benefits they want you to reap from accessing the site are:
~ Reducing your cost of living without reducing your living standards.
~ Creating innovative and fun income streams that don’t require large investments or tie you down.
~ Longevity strategies that not only don’t break the bank, but actually reduce healthcare expenses.
~ Medical breakthroughs that affordably and significantly extend life.
~ Protecting and Growing assets at a time when life savings & pensions are under extreme assault.

Only time will tell if they can pull all that off, but they are certainly on fire with making it happen.

Though they are still in development with some sections of the website (and will be for as long as the effort continues given their zeal for employing the latest and best options in what they provide), it’s already worth a look. Check it out at www.restlessboomers.com.