Tag Archives: retirement

Lucy, I’m home!

Wheeler Historic Farm, Salt Lake City, Utah

Lobby of the Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

We’ve returned from our three-week road trip to find our home intact, our possessions still here, and everything functioning as it should. There’s always that moment of apprehension just before opening the door: will we find the windows smashed? The basement flooded? The fridge full of rotten food, thanks to a power outage? But all is well.

There’s nothing like a break in the routine to refresh the mind. I’m ready to tackle old projects with renewed vigor, and to jump back into the manuscript I finished while on vacation.

Vacation from retirement? Yup. Whether earning a paycheck or not, I need the occasional escape from the familiar. Every time I return from a trip, there’s a delicious whiff of newness in the air, a promise of a fresh start. I feel like tackling neglected chores and projects, trying new things.

Specifically, talking with my husband’s son the brand-new doctor has pointed me toward a new eating plan. For the next month, D and I are trying the high-protein, low-carb route to shed ten or so pounds. I don’t give two cold dog turds what people think of my middle-aged bod on the beach, but I do worry about the impact this plump tum will have on my health.

And D’s brother, a gifted guitarist, has lent me a lovely smaller-sized guitar to try. After a year of learning to play the ukulele, I’m ready to graduate to six strings. My hands are small, though, and big-bodied guitars are not comfortable with my injured right shoulder. I hope this size will work for me.

I hope the warm part of the year brings some lovely vacation time for you. What are your vacation plans?

How to Overcome Your Work Ethic in Retirement

My husband suggested this blog topic, which made me smile. We both struggle with this affliction, though I suspect I have a worse case.

I’ve always been an efficient multi-tasker—well, a multi-tasker, anyway. Like a juggler on a unicycle, for years I’ve kept multiple balls in the air as I lurched from crisis to near-disaster and back again. It helps to think of it that way, to visualize my former self peddling frantically while wearing a sparkly tutu and giant clown shoes, an exaggerated look of panic on my painted face. Makes it easier to set down the balls and step out of the center ring in search of a new role.

But now that I’m retired-ish, who’s checking to make sure I’m achieving adequate yearly progress? (Sorry—having worked in the public school system, certain odious phrases just come naturally to me. Add that to my to-do list: banish the buzzwords.) Bereft of job assignments from without, I’ve become my own worst boss.

Even though it’s going on three years since I left full-time paid employment, I have a full-time to-do list. I want to exercise for an hour each day, keep the house and garden clean, practice Spanish daily, write at least a thousand words of fiction each day, plus a weekly blog post, read and comment on the work of my critique partners, read fiction for fun, stay informed about current events (talk about your juggling clowns), travel, sew, cook healthy and creative meals, make new friends, keep the old, visit family, explore new places…

Holy cow, this is worse that before! And then, god help me, I took on a part-time job. Two, actually.

Enough! I retired with two goals in mind:   #1: write, and #2: enjoy myself.

So what if I waste an hour or two reading interesting stuff online? All my life, I’ve relaxed by reading magazines—and what is the internet but one big magazine?

So what if I don’t hold myself to a strict workout schedule? I move around pretty well most days and get to the gym often enough to justify the cost of membership.

So what if I still haven’t yet published a book? A quick glance at Amazon reminds me I could self-publish anytime. I prefer to plug away at my manuscripts in hopes of eventually achieving traditionally published status. If I don’t, readers await elsewhere.

Henceforth—a momentous-sounding word, right?—henceforth I shall remind myself that my number one obligation in retirement is to enjoy myself. I’ve earned a break for all this frenetic busy-bee-ness.

Besides, those clown shoes gave me blisters, the greasepaint gave me pimples, and that unicycle seat chafed. Time to relax.

An Experiment in Semi-Retirement

retired-teacher

During my last walk through the halls of Bitburg American High School, I tried to predict what I’d miss the most about my job. I suspected it would be the feeling of belonging, of making an important contribution. Or would it be the abundant social contact? That seemed less likely; on the introversion scale, where one is a bubbly cheerleader and ten is a cave-dwelling curmudgeon, I’m about a seven. I enjoy spending time with children and teens, but being with them all day was exhausting. I truly miss laughing over lunch every day with my fellow teachers, and commiserating out in the hallway between classes. But what I miss the very most is…

My paycheck.

OK, go ahead and throw spit wads. We teachers are supposed to subsist on sunshine and kid’s smiles, unconcerned with pedestrian matters like financial compensation. But there you have it—the freedom of retirement comes at the price of having to pay more attention to my pennies.

And so I’ve been exploring options for making a little money on the side—that is, until my books hit the New York Times Bestseller List and I start raking in tall piles of money. (I’ll pause now, until all my writer friends stop laughing…Still waiting…Come on, guys…)

Last year’s foray into substitute teaching was lucrative, but not something I care to repeat. We all have our childhood memories of those poor subs, pelted with spitballs, epithets and disrespect. Actually, the worst thing about subbing was the boredom. There’s seldom any teaching going on, and that’s quite understandable.

If you’re, say, a chemistry teacher, do you really want some stranger with a degree in English mucking about with your expensive supplies? If you’re a P.E. teacher, do you want some former music teacher to be the only thing between forty rambunctious tweens and total mayhem? No way—you prepare a stack of handouts or an education film for those inevitable days when you’re felled by the flu.

Instead of hiring certified teachers as subs, the public schools should recruit moms and dads who’ve raised big broods. They have the skills most needed by subs: eyes on the back of their heads, and that stern mom/dad glare that forces kids to drop the spit wads, stop poking their classmates, and hush.

This year, I’ve stumbled into three different mini-jobs: I’m teaching French to little kids and adults, helping teens to prepare for the SAT/ACT, and editing a writing buddy’s manuscript. This is more or less the kind of patchwork arrangement I imagined when considering retirement: I bring in a few bucks from here, a few from there, trying out jobs that offer less remuneration but more fun. Although I could happily spend most of each day writing, it’s good for me to get out of the house and interact with non-imaginary people every day.

And so I’m working on finding my new rhythm, balancing the demands of these different mini-jobs with my not-yet-paying writing, as well as trips to the gym and time spent with my oh-so-patient spouse. And I’m back to writing lesson plans again. It’s funny, my writing is more consistent now that I must squeeze it in between work sessions. Who’da thunk it? I guess some of us just need more structure to our days.

Feast or Famine

lonely beach

View from near the Cliff House, San Francisco

It’s the beginning of summer break, and the teacher mindset is still firmly rooted in my brain. I can’t help but feel a bit giddy when I see the kids celebrating the end of another school year. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a hollow thunk—echoes of summer loneliness from years past. I taught on U.S. military bases in Europe, and during the school year I had lots of fun companionship: my work friends were my after-work friends. But when the school year ended, my teacher friends scattered, many returning to the U.S. for the summer, leaving me with lots of free time but few companions to share it with.

One of the challenges of starting a new phase of life in a new place is finding interesting people to hang out with. We’re retired, but most of our friends and family are not, and that can make for more alone time that we’d like. Even an introvert like me craves company other than dear hubby from time to time. I continue to explore Meet Up groups in order to meet interesting people, especially newcomers to Tacoma who don’t yet have full dance cards. I’m meeting some very interesting women via a walking group, and plan to jump back into dance classes soon. Still, I must put forth an effort to find companions, and my friend-making skills, never very strong to begin with, have atrophied from so many years of living in a close-knit community. So far, it’s a hit-or-miss process: times when there’s lots of social fun to be had, followed by stretches where the few people I know well are all booked up. This is one of those famine times.

A few weeks ago I was feasting, surrounded by friends and family to celebrate a very happy occasion, my step-son’s graduation from medical school. The G clan gathered in Phoenix: three generations of extended family and friends, plus three generations of his marvelous girlfriend’s family. We rented a huge house where we cooked too much, laughed loudly, played guitars and splashed in the pool. It was a wonderful chance to commune with the family, and I was sorry to see it end—though not too sorry to leave behind Arizona’s extreme heat.

San Francisco

The view from Land’s End, San Francisco

Before that, I spent a week visiting my mother and daughter, who live together near San Francisco. I got to spend a day with the S clan, catching up with my brother and sister and their families. To celebrate my daughter’s twenty-third birthday, we went to see Beach Blanket Babylon, a hilarious musical send-up of current events, featuring outrageous costumes and huge hats. If you find yourself in SF, you must go see this show. We also walked lots: along Land’s End, and through Golden Gate Park, one of my favorite places.

The pagoda at Stowe Lake

The pagoda at Stowe Lake                           

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The rose garden was in full glory, and Stowe Lake drew lots of happy people paddling and strolling. We also took in an exhibit of Oscar de la Renta’s dresses at the De Young Museum, including these two, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker and Taylor Swift. Lovely, eh?

dresses

Makes me want to take up sewing again.

But now we’re home again, and the pendulum has swung back to the solitary side. I must get back to work building new connections. Eventually, I’ll find the right balance between alone and together. May your summer be filled with as much company as you want—and as much solitude.

A Is for And

A

Don’t you just love a fresh start? A new year, a new home, a new job–there’s an undeniable rush of hope and possibility when starting a new chapter in life. The transition from full-time employment to retirement is more than a new chapter–it’s practically a whole new book. I never expected to make this transition so soon, but Lady Luck gifted me with a shot eat early retirement, and I dove in like an Acapulco cliff-diver–kasploosh! Now I have what I yearned for during my many years of teaching: lots of glorious time to explore all those interests I could never really fit into my busy working life. It’s a trade-off, to be sure: less money but more time. Let the fun begin!

Ahem. Shuffle. Stare at computer screen. Get distracted by flashing ad and follow it down a rabbit hole of internet fluff.

Here’s the thing about unlimited possibilities (well, limited by my wallet): how do I chose what to do with all this time? I wanted to write, of course, and work out regularly, and learn to paint with water colors, and travel to Canada and Latin America and parts of the U.S. I’ve never seen, and take gourmet cooking classes, and learn to play the guitar and golf and the piano and speak Spanish, and take singing lessons, and try pottery, and explore all the cool shops and museums and hiking trails and towns and parks and…

Really, what I want is to try as many different creative pursuits as possible. Why should I limit myself to just a few? And perhaps this indecision is actually not a bad thing. My main creative focus is writing, true, but dabbling in other creative pursuits could only be good for me, right? It’s like cross-training, cross pollination, food for thought. And one of the blessings of being this age is that I don’t care as much about what others think of my efforts. I’m very comfortable being a bumbling, bungling newbie who makes lumpy sculptures, lopsided drawings, and speaks Spanish like a tongue-tied three-year-old. Here’s to trying new things.

The Frugal Retiree v. the Webinar

person-on-computer-487206

One of the issues I’m learning to deal with in retirement is the switch from a monthly paycheck to a smaller pension. It’s a tradeoff I’m pleased with overall: less money for more time. We have enough savings to cover our needs, and even our wants, if we’re wise about our spending. But I now have to think more carefully about my purchases, rather than just mindlessly buying stuff because I can. If I were to blow a few hundred dollars on clothing I want but don’t need, for example, then I wouldn’t be able to afford a trip or a concert—which I really prefer to more clothing.

I think that this sort of prioritizing is good for me. Rather than just buying stuff willy-nilly in an effort to entertain myself and polish up my self-esteem, I’m forced to consider which things and experiences will give me the most satisfaction. This kind of self-knowledge makes me a happier person.

And I really think that “retail therapy” is bad—for the planet, for the closet, and for the spirit. I know that buying crap helps the economy, but perhaps an economy based on buying crap we don’t need is an economy that needs to change.

In retirement, I’m becoming a careful, mindful consumer. In fact, I don’t like being called a consumer. Is that my function: to buy stuff? I like to think I contribute more important things than spending. And, now that I have more time at my computer, I’m bugged more and more by the unrelenting wheedling of online marketers. Wasn’t the internet supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas?

Sure, I get it—everyone’s got to make a living. If a local plumber wants to drop a flier in my mailbox, that’s fine. I may actually need his services someday. If that flier arrives in electronic form, that’s OK too. And I enjoy hearing about local events I might want to attend: concerts, festivals and the like. What makes me sad, and a bit nauseated, are the unrelenting online pitches I must climb over to get to the information I’m looking for. So often I click on what appears to be an interesting article or video, only to find a sleazy sales pitch for an overpriced webinar, conference call, newsletter, or some sort of “amazing, life-changing experience” that I can have for the low, low price of $299.

How could any two-hour video be worth $299? There are many fine self-help books out there, and if a favorite blogger or columnist takes the time to edit and organize her best work into a book, I’ll probably buy it.  I’ve bought indie-published books and e-books on fashion, healthy eating, writing advice (most not worth the money, alas), and organizing. What they all have in common is a reasonable value-to-price ratio. And the bloggers/authors offered plenty of free samples of their work before pitching their books—not just a long, tedious sales pitch promising to “revolutionize” my fitness/writing/health/closet…whatever.

But a conference call, video or audio recording for hundreds of dollars? Perhaps if Sue Grafton or J.A. Jance want to offer me an hour of their time to talk about my novel in progress. Otherwise, that seems ridiculously overpriced, and brazenly greedy.

An example: I enjoy weight training, and I’m interested in expert advice to help me get stronger and fitter without hurting myself. There’s not that much out there geared toward the needs of healthy older women who want to improve their fitness, but aren’t starting from zero. I tend to see the same basic advice over and over again, whether online or in print. Recently, I clicked on a website that looked promising, but what I got was a series of slickly-produced short videos and an ensuing barrage of emails, all designed to sell me an overpriced series of instructional videos. And you know—if she’d offered a book or a reasonably-priced video, I’d probably have bought it. But I can go to a bookshop or a sports shop and purchase those items for $30 or less, not the $300 she’s demanding.

Who buys these overpriced webinars and recorded “lessons”? As for me, I’ll take my cheap self to the library. If I really like your work, I may buy a copy of your book or video. But for $300, I expect something worth the effort it took me to earn that sum: say, a weekend at the beach, with live music and a few marvelous meals—so much more fulfilling than sitting at my computer, watching some “life-changing” video. Meh.

 

The Power of Habit: a Daily Hour of Exercise

“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

— John Irving

Oh là là! The one-year anniversary of my retirement slipped by without my noticing it. I was busy celebrating my sister-in-law’s retirement, also from teaching, and entertaining house guests. Well then, it’s been a year now: a whole year of doing as I please (mostly), of cultivating my talents and passions (well, some of them), of sleeping in as late as I like (almost always)—a very good year indeed.

I started out this first year of retirement with two goals: to become a consistent, daily writer, and to become very physically fit. I had vague notions of becoming a fitness instructor and offering on-site exercise classes to teachers after school. Well…

The good news is that the writing is going swimmingly. Most days, I spend at least two hours at my computer, either writing or editing a draft. And while I could do much better with this blog (and I shall), I’m moving steadily toward my goal of becoming a professionally-published fiction author. What really gave me a boost was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last November. In order to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days, I had to write for at least two hours each day. And I did, thus establishing a writing habit that stuck.

The bad news is that a series of visitors, the holidays, a back injury, and more visitors—plus human nature and the siren song of the internet—have pulled me away from the gym. That is, I have allowed myself to be pulled away; there’s nothing to be gained by blaming others for one’s own faults, eh? My girth is expanding, and it’s high time to do something about that.

Here’s my plan: I shall henceforth exercise for an hour every day. That’s it. I mean, really—as a retired person, I have no excuse for not devoting at least an hour a day to moving around in this body I hope to inhabit for the next thirty years. Eight hours of sleep per night plus one hour of exercise still leaves me fifteen hours per day to do everything else. Unless I am ill, by which I mean feverish, I can certainly work in an hour’s activity each day. On a busy day, I can divide that hour up into smaller segments if need be.

And by exercise I mean a brisk walk, a run, an exercise DVD, a Zumba class, a spin class, weight training, golf, yoga, belly dancing, mowing the lawn…anything that’s somewhat strenuous. Yesterday’s Zumba class at the Y was quite strenuous, and this morning’s spin class kicked my plump behind—but in a good way. Anna, our wonderful cycling instructor, said today, “You’re only one workout away from a good mood.” Isn’t that the truth? I always walk out of the Y feeling a bit giddy and delightfully relaxed, no matter what the weather. And if I’m going to pay $40 per month for membership (a bargain, in my estimation), I really ought to go to the gym most days.

My hypothesis is that by working in an hour of exercise—Every. Single. Day.—I should be able to lose this extra bit of writer’s padding I’ve acquired, even if I continue my nightly glass of wine and other foodie indulgences. I do eat a healthy diet overall, but the occasional cup of clam chowder does cross my lips. So, I’ll check back in a month from now, and will do my very best to avoid humiliation by sticking to the plan. Does anyone care to join me in the an-hour-a-day pledge?

Wonder Woman Versus the Sproing!

wonder-woman-clipart

Sproing! It happens to every athlete, young and old – but I’ve never been much of an athlete, and up until now I’ve been feeling pretty smug. Seated on the mat, folded over at the hips like a closed book, I had succeeded in comfortably resting my forehead on my knee during my post-workout stretch. I’d done this several times now, a happy result of my seven-month steady gym habit. Look at me! I’m Wonder Woman – defying the limits of middle age. Watch me fly! Watch me – OW!

But I felt better after two weeks of avoiding the lower-back press machine and extreme forward bends, so I tried a “beginners’” yoga class – and forgot, once again, that I am not Wonder Woman. A few days later I found myself in the emergency room, paralyzed with agonizing back spasms. Have you had these? If not, I pray that you never do. It goes like this: your lower back seizes your entire body and mind, as if you’ve just been grabbed down there with a giant staple remover. You know, that metal claw-like thing in your desk drawer? It grabs you with a sharp pain that takes your breath away and hisses into your ear, “Don’t. Move.” But you have to move, right? You have to summon help somehow. So you try a tiny step, only to be clamped again in a vice of blinding pain. Ladies, it’s not unlike strong labor pains, but centered in your lower back. And deep breaths don’t help – in fact, it’s hard to breathe. After two fuzzy days on Vicodin and muscle relaxers, I had to figure out how to fix this.

One of the things I’d been looking forward to doing in retirement was getting into really good shape. Oh, I wasn’t a complete slug during my working years; I’d hit the gym once or twice a week and take long walks when weather permitted, but it was always difficult to force myself to exercise after a long day of teaching high school and then coaching after-school activities. And to those chirpy morning types who tell me to get up an hour early to exercise, to them I say – well, I can’t use such language here. As it was, I had to get up at 5:30 A.M. in order to have time for breakfast, perform my ablutions, prepare my lunch, and gather my work things, including workout clothes. And I hated that alarm clock with a passion; every day I cursed that nasty, insistent beep, beep, beep that wrenched me from my dreams and into another cold, dark morning. One of the most delightful aspects of retirement is the ability to get out of bed when I’m damned good and ready.

But I digress. Now I’m free to fit in exercise more frequently, at a civilized hour, and I have been doing so. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, and we read how important it is for older women to perform resistance exercise in order to stave off the otherwise inevitable wasting of muscle tissue that comes with age, and the ensuing bone brittleness. According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, a physician and expert in women’s fitness, women lose about ½ pound of muscle per year after age 40 if they do not engage in regular resistance training. (I recommend her book Body for Life for Women, in which she presents a do-able, gimmick-free fitness program that includes weight training.) Less muscle mass equals a slower metabolism equals a plump, sluggish body and less joie de vivre. And how much fun is it to look in the mirror and see toned, firm arms and shoulders after 50!

Our local YMCA is a wonderful place to exercise. Unlike many commercial gyms, it’s truly a community center, and the clientele ranges from tiny children (in the pool – so cute!) to very old folks maintaining their strength, balance, and flexibility. I feel very comfortable and welcome there. Spin class is very challenging, and I merrily ignore the urgings of the younger instructors to crank it up to gear 15. I challenge myself, keep an eye on my heart monitor, and enjoy the group energy and the great music. Zumba class is an absolute hoot! I love a dance-y workout, and have zero interest in any fitness class that resembles combat – but hey, chacun a son gout. About 60 of us shake it twice a week, led by two young instructors through a series of heart-pumping hip-hop and Latin dance moves. I’m inspired by a woman I see at every class who’s 80 if she’s a day, and who does all the moves – modifying for her range of motion, of course. She’s having so much fun!

A problem with the fitness industry is that most instructors are young and very fit (of course!), and they lack experience in modifying workouts for older exercisers, for larger exercisers, or for people who have limitations due to injuries. “Of course everyone can bend like this,” they say. “Just try a little harder!” Our Y is blessed with some excellent older instructors who never neglect to mention modifications. But the computer is another matter.

Why, oh why, did I listen to that computer? The program is called ActivTrax, and it spits out a weight-training workout, based upon an initial strength test. Well, this computer was impressed with my progress, and told me to set the lower-back press for 110 pounds. And I listened – what kind of fool am I? I’d also been doing some very challenging (for me) ab exercises, heaving myself up on a slant board, waving my legs in the air like semaphore flags, and other foolishness. I’ve since read that an imbalance in the abdominal and back muscles can result from these very-targeted exercises, which can lead to lower-back pain. It’s better for people with back problems to train the whole core with exercises like planks, rather than to zero in on upper abs, lower abs, etc. Now I know.

My wonderful GP doctor, her physician’s assistant, and my equally wonderful physical therapist have taught me a great deal about how to exercise my abs without straining my back. My GP, who is young, slim and fit, also has back problems and will not even do any sort of forward-bending stretches of the type I was abusing when the sproing hit me. Well then! Obviously, I have a lot to learn about a subject, weight training, that I thought I was already pretty well-informed about. And I must face the fact that, at my age, I must take a more cautious approach to exercise. Not that I plan to “slow down,” nor do I plan to restrict myself to swimming – which is what so many advise old folks to do. No, you’ll find me in weight room again, but I’ll be planning my own workouts, rather than following the dictates of a computer program. And I’ll be listening much more carefully to my body.

But I would like a pair of those WW red boots!

In search of Je ne sais quoi

 

Nancy, France, spring 2014

Nancy, France, spring 2014

I’m on a French kick. Lately, I’ve been muttering to myself in French – perhaps because my efforts at learning Spanish are kicking up the French-language debris that lines the foreign-language portion of my brain. And I’ve been looking in my closet and dreaming of simple, elegant, chic ensembles. I yearn for a smaller, well-organized wardrobe based on classic, good-quality pieces like a tailored jacket, a cashmere sweater, a crisp white blouse, ankle-length jeans, ballerina flats, and the all-important LBD. Of course, I’ve seen few Tacomans who dress like that, but so what? Isn’t retirement all about going my own way and discovering my own preferences? I already own enough scarves to bedeck a city block of Parisiennes, and a genuine beret Basque. The classic, slim silhouette of a French femme d’un certain age – that’s what I need to feel bien dans ma peau – at ease, confident, and full of joie de vivre. (See? What did I tell you? French phrases littering the place like autumn leaves.)

This yearning for all things French is largely due to homesickness – not only for Europe, but for who I once was – Madame S., prof de français. Even after I changed jobs and ceased teaching French, I continued to live near France (in western Germany) and travelled there frequently. I’ve been sorting through some photos this week, which is a much more time-consuming process on the computer than it used to be when we just printed up our snapshots and put them into an album – or into a shoe box with the promise that one day we’d put them into an album. In any case, I keep running across shots of the Loire valley, of châteaux I’ve visited there, of my daughter and me in Paris during her senior year of high school, of a long-ago me shepherding students through Paris, or Strasbourg, or Verdun, or even Hagenau, a cute little town in Lorraine that was an easy day’s outing from our school in northern Bavaria. And I found dozens of photos of my mom, daughter, husband and me in Colmar, one of the most beautiful towns in Alsace – crisscrossed with canals, the half-timbered houses with drunkenly-sloped tiled roofs, and windows bedecked with explosions of geraniums – so lovely, so comfortable, so far away.

Colmar, summer of 2012.

Colmar, summer of 2012.

But part of this French kick is also a reaction against the sloppy aesthetic of so many women my age. OK – at the family literacy program where I’ve been volunteering, some of the instructors dress up for work in proper dresses or nice slacks and blouses. Aha – my use of the word “proper” is a clue – my inner snob is pushing back against the laissez-faire approach to personal grooming that reigns here in my new home. I yearn to find a sidewalk café where I can sip espresso and read or write or contemplate deep, philosophical questions while watching interesting people stroll by. I want to be called Madame by a black and white-clad waiter with a cool attitude – instead of being chirped at by a cheerleader type: “Hi there! How are you today? Are you having a fantastic day? What can I get started for you? An Americano? Perfect!”

No honey, it’s not perfect. Perfect would be a place where I could sit comfortably and the waitress would come to me, take my order in modulated tones, and not insist on chirping at me until the coffee is ready. I loathe, despise and abominate chirpiness. And I’m not a cranky pants most of the time – really, I’m not. I find people fascinating – all sorts of people, but I just want a peaceful pause in my day to sip my caffeine and read a bit, or perhaps just stare out the window and watch the passers-by, as they do in France. Sigh.

Loire Valley, Spring 2014

Loire Valley, Spring 2014

A few days ago, I was in a restaurant with my husband. At the next table were a gaggle of women about my age – 50s, some perhaps in their 40s. They were drinking wine and laughing –well, braying and cackling – very loudly. Perhaps they were having a girls’ night out, having a few (loud!) laughs after work. But I got the strong feeling that they were all single – perhaps divorced? They were all well-groomed and dressed in work outfits – expensive-looking, snug pants with dressy blouses. Each one had obviously colored, streaked and styled hair – rather stiff, and plenty of makeup. Each one looked a bit anxious, checking out the room – for possible dates? For the impression she was making? Even though they were having (loud!) fun, they didn’t look at ease, confident, comfortable. They were a bit on edge, checking out the room for the impression they were making.

There’s a sexiness to the French woman that comes from being comfortable, from a firm sense of who she is. She knows herself, and dresses to please; a Frenchwoman always aims to seduire (to charm, to please) – not just men, but all the people with whom she comes into contact. But she has a basic confidence that this table of attractive-but-trying-too-hard American women obviously lacked. And that confidence is sexy.  Even – or especially – older French women, les femmes d’un certain âge, project this sexy, effortless (or seemingly so) confidence, and that’s what I’m aiming for – even here in my new home. Vive l’esprit français – even in Tacoma!

Shopping in the Galeries LaFayette, Paris, 2011.

Shopping in the Galeries LaFayette, Paris, 2011.

Here’s a list of books that I’ve enjoyed on French style and the French lifestyle, just in case you’re feeling a bit Frenchie yourself:

  • Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange, with Sophie Gachet. Such lovely photos! A quick read for a rainy day, with excellent recommendations for a simple, classy French wardrobe, styling tricks, grooming advice, and pages of Ines’s tips for your next visit to Paris – good fodder for daydreaming.
  • Chic and Slim; Chic and Slim Encore; Chic and Slim Techniques by Anne Barone. Thess slim volumes by a Texan show how French techniques can be applied to the U.S. lifestyle with splendid results. Oh, and she has another book out: Chic and Slim Toujours, which contains advice for aging gracefully à la française. I must buy this! Check out her blog at annebarone.com.
  • French Style by Veronique Vienne. Another slim volume with lovely vintage photos and philosophical inspiration.
  • All of Mireille Guiliano’s books: French Women Don’t Get Fat; French Women for All Seasons; and I’m currently reading French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. Her voice is delightful, and her advice practical and oh-so-applicable. Guiliano lives part-time in the U.S., so she knows the cultural and practical barriers to applying French techniques and attitudes here.
  • Fatale: How French Women Do It by Eduth Kunz. Her chapter “Of a Certain Age” is particularly inspiring.
  • French Women Don’t Sleep Alone, by Jamie Cat Callan. Erica Jong called this book “Adorable!” – and so do I. She analyzes that supreme confidence – not arrogance, just self-knowledge and self-acceptance – that makes French women so alluring.
  • All You Need to Be Impossibly French, by Helena Frith Powell, an Englishwoman who makes very perspicacious comparisons between the attitudes and practices of her countrywomen and les françaises. Sharp, funny, realistic.
  • French Toast, by Harriet Welty Rochefort. An American marries into a French family and learns volumes about the puzzling, wise, mysterious ways of the French. Very funny, full of illustrative anecdotes.
  • Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier. A well-rounded look at the attitudes and lifestyle of French women, with many fascinating historical vignettes.

And of course, this list doesn’t even begin to touch on the many French cookbooks that have inspired me, nor on the many delightful works of fiction about U.S. or English women who made the transplant to l’hexagone. Hmm – perhaps my next novel should be about a middle-aged woman in the U.S. who decides to polish up her lackluster lifestyle by living like a Frenchwoman? That could be très amusant.

 

Reflections on Retirement, Six Months In

And now we have arrived at what Germans call  die Zeit zwischen den Jahren, or “the time between the years,” that quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s when we sit back, munch cookies, burp, and reflect on the glories and challenges of the past year, while planning our goals for the next.

2014 was a truly momentous year for me: I retired after a 27-year teaching career; I came back to the U.S. after living in Germany for nearly 30 years; I married a very good man and acquired a most excellent extended family; I made some real progress toward my long-frustrated goals and desires. Holy cow!

Duncan & Rhonda get married

2015 will be the first calendar year in which I’m fully retired – well, from teaching – well, for money. I’ll soon begin volunteering at a family literacy program that helps adults – in this case, mothers – reach their goal of a high school diploma and, for some, preparation for college. There are so many good causes here that need volunteers; a retired person could easily fill her days with satisfying work outside the home if she so desired. I don’t. Part of my transition into retirement has been lolling about in my jammies, enjoying my newfound freedom like a pig rolling in luscious mud. After so many years of doing for others, I’ve been enjoying this unrepentant selfishness. I still wake up most mornings, realize that I don’t have to get out of bed until I’m good and ready, and grin in amazement and delight.

Time is really what we sell when we work, and what we long for during those working years – time in abundance, time to fulfill our plans, write our novels, paint our tableaux, build our homes, explore the world, take care of ourselves the way we’ve taken care of children and clients and students and pets and… And the dominant note of this phase of life – sweet, blessed retirement from daily paid work – is the keen awareness that time is limited. I’ll be active and healthy for – what? – maybe twenty more years? A bit more if I’m lucky, but I’ve also entered the phase of life in which friends my age begin to die of cancer, heart disease, the various ailments that take us away too soon. So I try not to waste this precious, vital time on mindless time-sucks like TV marathons, errands, or too much social media. Wow – what could I have accomplished if I’d take this attitude twenty years earlier?

Recently I spent some time with some people in their 30s and early 40s, and what I took away from that exchange is that they’re terrified – of growing older, of no longer being the cool kids, of losing their youthful invincibility, of entering that slide into – what? What are you so afraid of, kiddos? Clearly, these bright, lovely young people fear some terrible fate that awaits when they are no longer wired in to the latest electronic gadgets, when they no longer dance ‘til dawn, when their knees and backs complain after athletic feats of derring-do. I want to take them in my arms and reassure them that life is indeed worth living past youth – that their older years will most likely be a blast! But they wouldn’t believe me, so indoctrinated are they by the Cool Kids’ Creed. (It must be posted somewhere on some social media site I’m too old and uncool to access.)

So the best I can do for these frightened young people is to give them a good example of an older woman having fun in retirement. I’ve no intention of trying to crack the Cool Kids’ Code – after all, it’s intended to keep my ilk out of the clubhouse, and I would look mighty silly in one of those floppy hipster beanies. But soon these youngsters will venture a look out of the clubhouse and notice that – can it be? – there are older people out there having fun! That’s a good goal for 2015, I think: I shall set a good example of a retired person enjoying her life. Happy New Year, everyone!