Travel Time Across the Midwest

One of the many things I appreciate about retirement is the ability to switch gears at the last minute.  No need to put in a request for time off.  No scrambling to get a report done ahead of time or delegate tasks that have to be tended to while you are gone.   You can just turn off the lights, lock the door and go.  This comes in handy when you want to help a family member move across several states, as we did this past week.

Son #4 and his lovely wife decided to follow career opportunities that took them from Texas to Omaha.  Within two weeks we were able to book our flights and be in Texas to help them pack up and drive the U-Haul up north.  Matter of fact, I am writing this post as we travel.  (Do not recommend trying to type on your laptop while riding shot gun in a 26-foot U-Haul.)  I blame all errors in this post on a bumpy keyboard. 

One of the benefits of working is feeling that you are needed and have something to contribute to others that is valued.  Work fulfils several basic needs in our lives, as I have addressed in a previous post, Have I Failed Retirement? It is important to find ways to fill those gaps once you retire.  One way to do that is by helping others.  So, Mr. U and I were happy to jump in a plane and fly to Texas to help with the move. Bonus that we got to spend time with our son and DIL.  They lived in New Braunfels, Texas, which is between San Antonio and Austin.  Needless to say, there is plenty to see in the area.  I have several favorites that I would recommend from previous visits there:

  • If you are in the area, of course you must do the San Antonio River Walk.  Duh.
  • The Alamo is also a must see, particularly for history buffs.
  • It is just a short two-hour drive south of San Antonio to the Gulf Coast.  We stayed a night in Corpus Christi and enjoyed a delicious dinner down on the pier.
  • I would recommend taking a late afternoon or early evening walk down 6th street in Austin.  It is a fun, historic district with lots of street music, entertainment, restaurants, and pubs.  Leave the later evening for the younger people though.
  • Take a day drive through the green rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country.  Beeeautiful! Who knew that Luckenbach, Texas, the legendary country music mecca, wasn’t really a city?   Luckenbach was founded in the 1840’s by two German farming families, one of which was the Luckenbach family.   In 1970 the town of Luckenbach went up for sale and John “Hondo” Crouch bought it as a venue for country music.  Famous names, such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett performed there.  The day we stopped by there were some local country musicians jamming.   

While this trip was devoted to helping them move, we wanted to have a little fun too.  Because all work and no play smells suspiciously like real “work.”   So, after packing boxes all day, we took the evening off and went to Gruene Historic District in New Braunfels.  It is an eclectic area with antique stores, shops, restaurants, and entertainment, all tucked into the beauty of Texas. Gruene was founded in the mid-1840’s by German immigrant, Ernst Gruene.  He and his two sons planted cotton which became a big cash crop.  The cotton business brought 20 – 30 new families to the area and around 1878 a cotton gin, powered by the Guadalupe River, was added.   During this profitable time a dance hall and saloon, Gruene Hall, was built, which still stands today.  We had dinner at the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar.  It is built into the ruins of the old grist mill and has terraced seating with tables overlooking the Guadalupe River.  A truly unique and beautiful atmosphere.

One morning we stumbled on The Pastry Corner, a lovely little bakery with outdoor seating.  This bakery has taken the pop tart to a whole new level.  As a matter of fact, it seems that adult pop tarts are popping up all over (I know, bad pun).   Once we got to Omaha we had breakfast at Good Evans and they also served up a fresh, homemade pop tart that was to die for.  Get there early because once they run out, that is it for the day.  You might want to share this sweet juicy goodness because it is LARGE. 

Picked up some goodies from the bakery.

Enough about pastries; back to the task at hand.  After the U-Haul was packed to the gills, Mr. U and I headed north.  We took time to make a few fun stops along the way.  One of which HAD to be Magnolia Market.  I am a fangirl of Joanna Gaines and her market did not disappoint. 

If you need gas and a bathroom break, you have to stop at a Buc-ee’s.  They boast that they have the “cleanest restrooms in America!”  But even more importantly, they have a very large unique store.  Think Circle K on steroids.   Don’t worry, you won’t miss one of these stops because they have hundreds of billboards along the freeway, which have entertaining advertising.  Be sure to have one of their Texas sausage kolaches; a fluffy sweet breading wrapped around a sausage with cheese.  Tell ‘em Marian sent you. 

So grateful to not be tied to a job, and at a point in life where we can drop everything and take a little micro trip to get to see our son and DIL and help them move.  It was a win for us.  We got to help them out and get a little vacation too.  Retirement life is good!

Hitting the Trifecta!

A burst of happiness.  Money in the bank.  Yep – I hit the trifecta! The Kentucky Derby comes up next month, so it is a good time for a post about how to hit the “retirement trifecta.” In the horse races, the trifecta is three wins in a specific order.  As I see it, that means a retirement trifecta can be any three things that you consider a “win” in life. These three great wins just have to be together and boom… you have a retirement trifecta!

Cochise, in the above featured photo, was my Kentucky Derby horse Shetland pony that I rode as a kid. He was one of several horses that belonged to my best friend, and I was always elected to ride him. (Hum….I wonder why?) He was a sweet old soul and stubborn as hell. It is a wonder I did not break a bone riding him bareback and being thrown whenever he abruptly decided it was time to stop. Maybe not a trifecta win, but definitely good memories.

Unlike the horse racing trifecta, the retirement trifecta can be found by anyone, almost anywhere.  It often includes a few moments of “awe.” We can deliberately plan a trifecta win or it can show up spontaneously.  What is my retirement trifecta?  It is any activity that has the following three characteristics:

  • fun
  • healthy
  • inexpensive

It is fun

Who among us does not want to have fun; honest, exhilarating, laugh out loud, fun.  The stuff that makes us smile, even when no one is around.  Why do we get so serious as we age?  I am sure it is due to years of hard living.  You don’t get to be retirement age and not have a few chinks in your armor.  We have all had our share of mean people that etched unkind words in our souls.  We have experienced deep losses and heart-breaking news.  We’ve had years of responsibility that felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders.  All these experiences, over a lifetime, take their toll.  But now that we are older and the challenges and stress of building our careers while raising families are behind us, we should be having more fun. As the sayings goes, “if not now, when?”  Fun is different for everyone.  We can’t necessarily describe it but we know it when we experience it.

It is healthy

Who among us does not want to be healthy? However, most of us do not want to put the effort in and do what we need to do to be healthy.  But what if healthy was also fun?  For example, I know that working out at the gym is healthy, but for me, it is not fun.  I feel good afterwards, but I do not feel exhilarated.   It is just something that has to be done.  But, if I can be out biking, hiking, walking, kayaking or cross-country skiing in some beautiful terrain, ahhh.  That is exercise that is also fun.  It is good for both my physical and mental health.  Bonus if I pack a fresh, nutritious lunch to have while I am at it.

It is inexpensive

Who among us doesn’t want to save money? I think most of us hate wasting money on something that ends up not being worth what it cost. I certainly don’t mind spending extra on something that is going to give me a big bang for my buck.  After all, retirement is the time to experience some of these special, albeit expensive, experiences.  The big-ticket items are well worth it if they bring big ticket enjoyment. But, when I can get a big bang for minimal to no buck, well….that is even better.   Sometimes there is an initial investment, but if I use the item a lot and there is not an ongoing monthly cost, I consider it inexpensive.   For example, being out on my kayak or riding my bike counts as one leg of a trifecta for me.  If I only used these toys a few times, I would have a hard time justifying them as inexpensive, but since I use mine quite a bit, I figure they have paid for themselves.  Bonus that they get me out in nature which is both inexpensive and lifts my soul.

Everyone’s trifecta will be different. For some it might be solitude, creating, and soothing. Or maybe it is travel, being outdoors and having an exhilarating experience out of your comfort zone. When I hit on something that is fun, healthy and inexpensive, it is a trifecta win for me.  There are all kinds of formulas and calculations to try to hit the horse racing trifecta. Like betting on the horses, there are calculations for winning the retirement trifecta. All it takes is a little simple math.

Simple math

Hitting the trifecta in retirement is really just simple math.  Good thing it is simple because I was never a math whiz.   I earned decent grades in math, thanks to a few great teachers.  I was usually able to study the formulas and figure it out… for the test.  But apply it to real life situations?   Forget it.  Don’t rely on me to figure out the diameter of a sphere and I prefer my formula for Pi to have a flakey crust.  I definitely do not do “air math” unless it is under two digits.   So, as I get older, I have decided to create my own simple math.  What do I add together to create a better quality of life?  What formulas do I need to remember to build health and enjoyment into my life without spending my retirement savings down? In other words, how do I hit the trifecta by doing simple math?   

One thing I love about living in the PNW is that we have four distinct seasons (even though winter is a little too long).   Each season brings a different trifecta. Here are four simple math problems for each season of the year that hit the trifecta of fun, healthy and inexpensive for me. 

  • Spring:  A bike ride + a pack lunch + sunshine + view of the lake or river = a trifecta win (it was fun, healthy & inexpensive)
  • Summer:  Kayaking + sun on my shoulders + stopping to have a fresh, healthy pack lunch + a cold glass of ice tea + laughing with my kayaking companion = a trifecta win (it was fun, healthy & inexpensive)
  • Fall:  Outdoor fall cleanup with a slash fire + hot cocoa + comfy camp chair for breaks = a trifecta win (it was fun, healthy & inexpensive)
  • Winter:  Cross country skiing + sun reflecting off of a perfectly groomed trail + good company + Baileys and coffee at the warming hut = a trifecta win (it was fun, healthy & inexpensive)

Everyone’s trifecta will be different, but it boils down to doing some simple math to hit it and in doing so we create a better quality of life.  How do you know when you have hit the trifecta?  You feel totally happy and content afterwards.   Your soul is satisfied. The weight of the world is lifted off of your shoulders for a while and you forgot about time.  

Why do we make life so complicated?  Hitting the trifecta is just simple math.

What is your trifecta?

Easter & New Growth

Happy Easter!

I hope that you had a lovely Easter, celebrating what you believe in and spending time with your peeps!  (Pun intended.)  We have a lot of peeps extended family in the area and have made a tradition of getting together for the major holidays.  My siblings and I each host a different holiday and mine is Easter, which I love to do.  I mean, who doesn’t love peeps, brunch and an Easter egg hunt? 

We had 35 people over for Easter.  Fortunately, everyone pitches in with the food.  After a delicious buffet brunch, we send the young adults out with bags and bags of plastic Easter eggs to hide.  We live in the country so there is no shortage of hiding spots.  The littles wait anxiously by the door and peer out the windows to try and get a first glance at where the eggs are hidden.  Once they are given the O.K., they burst out the door in all directions.  Chaos in the very best sense.  In the summer we usually come across one or two eggs that the hunters never found.   

New growth

Easter and spring always remind me of new growth and fresh starts.  It is a chance for new beginnings. Lovely color popping through a dull brown earth.  Crocus, daffodils and wild buttercups are some of the first spring flowers we see. 

As we reach retirement age, it seems like we have less new growth and less fresh starts.  It is too easy to get comfortable and stagnated with what we have always done.  Like putting on a comfy pair of old slippers. Don’t get me wrong, I love a pair of worn, comfy slippers, but I do not want to wear them all the time.   They feel soooo much better if I put them on after a day running around in sneakers or after an evening in shining heals.  Especially then. (And this coming from someone who has a hard time finding comfortable shoes.)  Those slippers would lose their pleasure if that was all I ever wore.  I would start to feel tired, frumpy and boring.   So, it is with life.  It is the new growth that keeps life interesting and adds zest to our days.   

Why is it that, as we age, we are often reluctant to try something new?   I find it an odd dichotomy that we are less willing to try something new at the very point in life when we have more time and discretionary money to do just that.  But it is big and scary to try something new, particularly as we get older.  After all, we are supposed to be the wise sage.  The experts.  Trying something new is taking a risk.  We don’t want to be the beginner that fumbles around and has to ask questions.  Then there are the fears that creep in: fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of looking like an old fool, and fear of using up our precious free time on something that does not turn out to be worthwhile.  But trying different things is what keeps us fresh and interesting. It is what makes us hop out of bed in the morning, ready to test a new idea or follow-up on something we were working on the day before.   

How do we begin to push ourselves out of our comfort zones to try something new that will help us grow?  Maybe it all starts with curiosity.  Quite a bit of research points to the fact that curiosity is one of the attributes of happy retirees.  How do we maintain our sense of curiosity and growth?   Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your thinking:

  • Write down a list of all the things you are curious about and would like to explore.  Don’t overthink it.  Just start writing and then you can prioritize and cross items off later. 
  • Add a new word to your vocabulary this week.  Maybe something from The New Urban Dictionary.  I remember reading somewhere that using a word seven times makes it part of your personal vocabulary. 
  • Try out a new recipe.  Most of us have that pile of recipes we have been meaning to try.  Set a night, get the ingredients, put on some music and get creating.
  • Do one thing to move you toward a new hobby you have wanted to try.  Buy the book to read about it or purchase the supplies you need. Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of trying something new.
  • Take a class on something you are curious about.  Every college and university have non-credit adult learning courses.  Better yet, if you have an area of expertise, offer to teach a course.
  • Tell one person, just one person, what you plan to do.  Verbalizing it makes it more real.  It also promotes a sense of commitment to follow through once you have told someone about it.
  • Write down the steps you need to take to move forward.  Include the final goal.  As we all know, people that write their goals down are much more likely to achieve them.
  • Plan a trip to somewhere you have not been before.   New sites and different cultures always stir our creative minds.

So, lets learn a lesson from Easter and take the steps to try something fresh and new this month.   Remember that there is no performance review or judgement.  And please, please, please, do not be your own worst critic.  Take the risk.  After all, what is the alternative…keep wearing the same old slippers day in and day out? 

Living With Contrast

“The Giver”

A few weeks ago, we went to a play at the high school.  It is the same high school that Mr. U was the principal for 16 years and that all of our boys attended.  (Yes, he was the principal while our sons attended… and yes, that could be a whole other post.  Suffice it to say that you get more unsolicited information about your children than most parents.  Smile.)  Anyway, we wanted to support the drama teacher that he used to work with, as well as the students, so we made it a date night with dinner and a play.  The name of the play was “The Giver.”   I had not heard of it before, but I always enjoy live theatre, so I was game to attend.  It never ceases to amaze me how talented these teenagers are.  I was scared to death just to give a five-minute speech in my communications class when I was in high school. 

The Giver” is a play adapted from the book by Lois Lowry.  Apparently, the book was banned at some point due to inappropriate content, but the high school play version was squeaky clean.  The story centers around 12-year-old Jonas who lives in a perfect world that is under control and safe.  There is no war, sadness, fear, or pain.  Sounds like utopia, right?  Except that there is no joy or happiness either.  It is a world void of any strong emotions.  Young Jonas is chosen to be trained as The GiverThe Giver is the only person that keeps the memories of real pain and real joy.  We observe Jonas as he experiences deep pain and sadness, but it is tempered with the unbelievable joy and happiness that he also gets to experience for the first time.  His world turns from gray to all the extraordinary colors of the rainbow. 

I walked away from the play with a deeper appreciation of the contrasts in life and how we need one to have the other. We cannot fully appreciate great happiness without also experiencing the deep crevice of sadness.  I don’t want or choose the sadness that enters my life, but sometimes you just need to sit with it, knowing it will not last forever.  There is the deep grief and sadness of missing my mom who passed away a little over a year ago, that lives alongside the resounding joy of welcoming a new grandbaby into our lives.   This contrast of emotions sharpens my appreciation and awareness of life.

Characters and Contrast

I often think it would sure be nice if everyone thought like I did, or at least agreed with me.  However, it is the contrast of personalities that make our world more fun and interesting. When I was a nurse working in the hospital, I always found it a challenge to try and win over the crusty old character who complained about everything:  the lousy food, the Dr. who did not know anything, the nurses who kept waking him up in the middle of the night to take his blood pressure, bla, bla, bla.   But after you had gained this patient’s trust, you would see a smile crack through or a story about their past slip out.   Come to find out, that person had a very interesting story to tell.   

Note the sign that the “old codgers” put up on the tree at their fishing corner on the lake.
The bottom line of the weathered sign used to say, “old fish stories told here.”

I grew up on a small lake and for several years my parent’s owned a boat rental.  They thought it would be a great way to teach us kids how to manage a business.  We had about a dozen small row boats that people could rent, along with a few 7-horsepower motors in case you wanted to move a little quicker on the water.  We came across quite a few “characters” in that business.   The one that stands out the most was an older widow, Mrs. Woods.  We were always expected to address adults, especially elders, by their formal title.   So, “Mrs. Woods” it was to all of us, even my parents.  

Mrs. Woods was bold and opinionated. She had a world of living etched into the crevices of her leather face.  To a seven-year-old, who lived in a sheltered world, she was scary and intimidating.    Mrs. Woods loved to fish, so she came out to the boat rental frequently, wearing layers of old fisherman’s gear that had a distinct odor to them.  Sometimes she would ride her bike or even walk to the boat rental and after she was done fishing my mom would often give her a ride back to her house in town.  As far as I knew, Mrs. Wood survived on fish and the income from her costume rentals.

One afternoon my sister needed a costume and so my mom took us into the depths of Mrs. Wood’s eclectic house. It was a dark, older home with several small rooms that were packed to the ceiling with layers of beautiful, detailed costumes.  Aside from being an avid fisherwoman, Mrs. Woods was also a talented seamstress and had a costume for every possible event.  She would riffle through the layers and layers of costumes in the dim light and know exactly where to find the one she was looking for.  She was a businesswoman and everyone in town knew, if you needed a unique costume, you went to see Mrs. Woods.  Mrs. Woods was the epitome of a “character” and my young, sheltered life was richer for having known her.  Contrasts. 

Knowing Mrs. Woods prepared me for a life of meeting characters and to appreciate them – to dig deep and find their stories.  Because, just maybe, a craggy old fisherwoman is also a seamstress that makes beautiful, intricate costumes. 

The last boat left from the boat rental business.

Retirement and Contrast

Life is full of contrasts and, as with so many things, it is the contrast that adds texture.  We appreciate the warmth and color of spring more after a long, cold winter of white snow and gray skies.  And, as young Jonas learned, without the contrast of emotions, the world would also be dull and gray.  No color.  Bland and boring.  It is the same with retirement.   We can choose to let it drift into a beige, ho-hum existence or we can make the effort to add striking contrast and color. We can live an ordinary life, or we can live an extraordinary life full of character.  It is all in our attitude. 

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln

So, I salute all of the Mrs. Woods out there and the other colorful characters that add contrast and interest to help us see the world through a different lens.