This Week in Retirement

We are already getting a lot of snow here in our part of the Pacific Northwest. But that is OK because Thanksgiving is over and you know what that means? Full on Christmas! I adore fall. It is probably my favorite season, so I don’t want to rush it. Therefore, I never put up Christmas decorations or play Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving, despite what the stores do.

This week in retirement, we are making Christmas wreaths at our house. They are quite easy, albeit messy, to make. My husband, Mr. U (as his students often called him), taught his agriculture students how to do this years ago. (A LOT of years ago, but who is counting?) They learned how to make wreaths and then sold them to the community to raise money for their FFA chapter. The students learned a skill, as well as how to run a business. And in the process, I learned how to make wreaths as well.

Making Christmas Wreaths in 5 Easy Steps

You will need the following supplies:

  • fresh branches
  • a wreath ring
  • garden trimmers
  • green wire
  • wire cutters
  • decorations: pinecones, holly, Christmas bulbs, a bow, or whatever sounds fun and interesting

Start by picking a lovely sunny winter day to gather copious amounts of tree branches. Fortunately, we have a lot of fir and cedar trees to choose from here in the PNW. (However, in the fall I really wish we had more colorful deciduous trees like they have on the East Coast.)

Cutting Cedar Tree Branches. They had some wonderful little pinecones on them.
Mr. U cutting branches. Gotta love that clean coat.

Once inside where it is warm, decide on a room where you don’t mind a big mess. We use Mr. U’s wood shop. Make some hot spiced wine and get the Christmas music going. Oh yes, back to making wreaths. Trim the branches to about 8-10 inches long and set them aside. If we had holly in our area, we would definitely use that too.

Trimming the tops of the branches.

To start the wreath, wrap the wire around the metal ring several times to hold it in place. Keep the wire on the spool and just continue to unwind it as you go. Gather 5-6 of the branches together. Lay them on the ring and wrap the wire around them a couple times to secure them to the ring. Continue this process, slightly layering one small group of branches over the other until you are all the way around the ring.

Securing groups of branches to the ring.

Once you have layered the branches all the way around the ring, wrap the wire several times to secure it and cut it off. Hang the wreath up and step back to look. Trim the wild branches to get it a little more uniform. Advice from Mr. U – do not over trim because you want it to look natural. Sigh – once a teacher, always a teacher.

Next is the fun part. Wire in the decorations, such as pinecones, Christmas bulbs, a bow, or whatever. Get creative.

Add the decorations.

Now that your hands are dirty and dry, and the spiced wine is gone, hang your wreath on the door and enjoy your efforts. While you are at it, be sure to make an extra wreath or two to give away.

Finished wreath on the door.

What are you creating this Christmas season?

Living with White Space

Roll out of bed to the alarm.  Start the coffee.  Jump in the shower.  Wolf down a quick breakfast.  Buckle in the car for a half hour commute.  Cuss at a few careless drivers on the way.  (I am not prone to cussing but reckless narcistic drivers bring it out in me.)  Find a half decent parking spot and walk briskly into the office.   All this before 8:00 a.m.   Sound familiar?

One of the best aspects of retirement is living without the constant push/pull on my time.  Been there.  Done that and do not want it in my life anymore.  Now I get up without an alarm, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and plan my day.  Planning is key because it is all too easy to fall whim to the barrage of demands (yes, we still have them in retirement) or becoming complacent and sitting in front of the screen for hours. 

After the initial euphoria of retirement wears off, people seem to fall into one of two camps.  There are those sad souls who are bored in retirement and wonder how to fill all the extra hours they have worked their whole lives to get.  They do not have enough purpose and meaning in their lives now that they don’t have the adrenaline rush of work.  And then there are those retirees who have too much on their plates and still believe the “busy means I am cool and important” philosophy.  Not cool.  Somewhere in the middle lies the perfect balance of enough.  The balance of having enough meaningful and fun things to do and enough time to relax and play.  It is wondering how you ever fit work into your life, but with time enough to breath.

It is that sweet spot of living with white space.

White space is the area of a page without print or pictures.  The white space that surrounds the text or pictures is what makes them stand out. It allows the eye to focus on what is most important.   We also need white space in our lives.  It is the rest or pause between activities.  It gives definition and importance to the activities we choose to do in retirement. 

Taking time for a moody kayak trip. Being in nature always opens up a lot of white space for me.

During those fun, crazy, busy years of working and raising a family, there was little room for white space.  The pages were almost completely written on, even in the margins.  The same can happen in retirement if we don’t guard our time.   We can get so busy that we lose focus and do not have time for the pause that refreshes.  For me, an ideal retirement is a balance of meaningful, fun activities, with enough white space around them to give them focus and pleasure without exhaustion.  

Of course, we don’t want only white space on the pages of our lives.  White space is meaningless without the script and pictures.  It is just a very boring empty page.  What most of us want and need in retirement are days that are full and accomplished without being stuffed.  Achieving this balance on a daily basis is challenging.   Even in retirement there are still going to be crazy busy days, but now we can balance them with days where we just relax and read a book in front of the fire and order dinner in.  This texture to our week is one of the beauties of retirement.   So instead of trying to create a perfect balance of activity and white space in a single day, I think it is more realistic to look at the overall balance in a week.  Am I getting enough done to feel accomplished and satisfied?  And am I living with enough white space to be able to relax, dream, refresh and be open to spontaneous opportunities. 

Here are five ways we can create more white space in our lives: 

  • Develop a perfect morning routine for you.   Take the time to plan and prioritize what is most important to you for the day or week.   A good way to clarify this is to ask yourself, what will I regret that I did not take the time for this week.
  • Don’t plan too much into your day.  Leave a few hours of unplanned time.
  • Schedule white space around your activities.   If you have two very full days, make sure that you take a day at home to relax a little.
  • Limit time wasters that are not satisfying such as too much screen time.  They clog up your day.
  • Reflect.  As Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”  

With the holidays approaching, it is so easy to become overloaded, even in retirement. So, I am challenging myself to create more white space in my life for the next 6 weeks.   

Isn’t Retirement Already a Vacation?

Do you really need to take a vacation when you are retired, since every day is like a vacation?  Why yes, yes we do.  Retirement has many similarities to a vacation, such as sleeping in if we want and the freedom to choose how to spend your time.  We choose what we want to do and what we need to do.  And there in lies the rub; when we are home, even in retirement, there are things we need to do.  When we are home, whether we are retired or not, we still need to clean the house, wash the cloths, shop for groceries, plan and prepare meals, mow the lawn, pay the bills and meet our responsibilities to others.  A vacation frees us from those responsibilities for a little while.   

According to AllinaHealth and Selecthealth, taking a vacation has several benefits:

  • Improves mental health
  • Provides a greater sense of well being 
  • Boosts happiness (After all, isn’t planning and thinking about it half the fun?)
  • Decreases your risk for heart disease (We have the added benefit that we walk A LOT when we travel.) 
  • Increases productivity & creativity (While this may be referring to paid work, it can certainly be applied to retirees as well.)
  • Strengthens relationships (My husband and are just lighter together when we travel.  Not physically, but emotionally.  And when you travel with or visit others, you build shared memories.)

My husband and I just got back from a micro vacation last week.  We have jokingly categorized our vacations into mini, micro and macro.  Mini vacations are quick, sometimes spur of the moment trips that are close to home and we can drive to.  They last between 2-5 days.  Micro vacations are more planned trips that last 1-2 weeks and are usually in the continental United States.  Then there are the macro vacations that take up to two weeks or more.  These are often outside of the continental U.S.  Our goal is to take at least one macro trip, two micro trips and numerous mini trips per year. 

Then to New Orleans and beignets after our morning walk.
Visitng my oldest son last week in Omaha.

While retirees no longer need to escape the time commitments and stress that exists with work, we still need the benefits that vacations provide.  I would have to add a few more items to the list of benefits that I gain whenever I travel.  Whether it is a mini, micro or macro vacation I always come home with: 

  • A new appreciation for home.  The old sayings, “it is good to leave home and it is good to come back” is so true.  I love to travel, but there is always a peace about coming back to the sanctuary of our home.
  • A new appreciation for our friends and family that live near us.  It is good to step away, as it refreshes relationships and it makes us appreciate them more when we meet up again.
  • It sparks my creative juices.  Seeing new sights and experiencing different cultures broadens my thinking and makes me look at life from different angles.
  • Shakes up our routine.   I am a big believer in having a loose routine or structure to our retirement days.  We need that.   But we can also get complacent with our routines, or dare I say, even get in a rut.  Vacations shake us up and awaken our senses again.
  • I come back with new recipes I want to try.  Our recent trip to New Orleans has put us on a quest to make a really good gumbo. 

While traveling can be exhausting, it also refreshes and expands my outlook on life.  It makes me eager to come home and try out new ideas.  So yes, yes we still need vacations when we are retired.  However, we really don’t need staycations anymore because, well… we ARE retired.