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!

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. 

What you need in the wilderness to survive is what you need in retirement to thrive.

I felt like we had prepared thoroughly for retirement. We planned it out years ahead, going over the financials and planning out our health insurance until we reached Medicare. I even felt like I prepared well for the lifestyle change that retirement would present. I read voraciously about it. It is a bit embarrassing to admit that I read over 59 books about retirement (seriously, I counted them in my Kindle library) as well as numerous blogs, in an effort to prepare for this major life transition. (Yes, I have been accused of paralysis by analysis more than once in my life.) However, knowing about something and experiencing it for yourself are two different animals. It is a bit like finding your way in the wilderness.

Just as you need certain tools and skills to survive in the wilderness, you also need certain tools and skills to thrive in retirement. You should have these in your survival kit if you want to thrive in this next phase of your life.

  • A whistle. If you get lost in the wilderness, you need a whistle to get help from others. For a satisfying retirement life, you need to hang with a tribe. If you lose your tribe, you need a whistle to reach them and let them know you are alive and where you are at. As often happens, when you leave work you lose some of your tribe. So you need to replace that built in social network. The good news is, now we get to pick and choose who we spend time with. No more listening to a self absorbed co-worker drone on. Take the initiative to make plans with friends and family or reach out with an invite to someone new you may want to get to know better. Who knows, they may eventually become a member of your tribe.
  • Knife. A knife can be used for multiple purposes out in the wilderness. It can help build a shelter, prepare food and create useful items from wood. One of the fun aspects of retirement is now you have the time to explore your creativity. There is satisfaction and joy in looking at something you created with your own hands. It can be something as simple as decorating a table for the holiday or as grandiose as building a piece of furniture or writing a book. The possibilities are endless. Get the right tools and play as you discover your creative side.
  • Shelter. If you ever watch the TV series “Survivor,” you will notice that one of the first things the “survivors” do when they get to the island is build a shelter. While the intent in building a shelter is protection from the elements, it also provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment. For most of us, paid employment brought a sense of accomplishment and purpose to our days. By the time we retired, many of us moved into supervisory or management positions. While these were stressful, they also fulfilled a basic human need for self-esteem and accomplishment. How are you going to fulfil that now that you are retired? Work on this one ahead of time; it can be a biggie. Many people choose to work part-time, sit on a board, start a business, volunteer or enrich the next generation in order to help fill this basic human need.
  • Food, water and physical strength. To survive in the wilderness you need food, water and strength. Your physical health is a huge factor in being able to enjoy your retirement. Find physical activity that you WILL do several times a week, at a minimum. No more excuses that there is not enough time. Pick something you enjoy in order to increase your chances of follow-through. Drinking more water and eating fresh, healthy, REAL food will give you more energy to survive and thrive. After all, we want to be able to lug those suitcases through the airport and sled with the grandkids. “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?” (Yobi Yamada)
  • Keep the fire burning. You won’t last long out in the wilderness without building a fire. In retirement you are going to need to spark the fire of curiosity to keep your life interesting and to stay relevent. Don’t become one of those stale retirees who sits in front of the TV and complains about the world “going to hell in a handbasket.” Retirement is a great opportunity to learn more, to travel and explore. Stay abreast of the ever changing technological world. If you stand still too long, the world will pass you by. Read Dr. Zeuss story “The North Going Zax and South Going Zax” to appreciate how this could be a problem. Smile.
  • Compass. It is so easy to lose your sense of direction out in the wilds. It is easy to lose direction and structure to your days in retirement as well. Work provided an automatic structure to our lives. You got up, showered and were out the door without much thought. When you first retire, the lack of structure feels like euphoria. But if you get complacent it can slip into drifting through your days without any meaning or sense of accomplishment. That doesn’t feel good over the long haul. As we get closer to the end of our life here on earth, we start to ask the questions, “what next” and “why am I here”. Getting this settled in your brain will contribute to your satisfaction in retirement. Then structure your days to move you in that direction.

So give some thought ahead of time to determine what you want and need to take with you into retirement. Be sure to:

  1. Take care of your social network
  2. Use your unique creative talents
  3. Incorporate activities that provide purpose and accomplishment
  4. Keep your curiosity burning
  5. Build structure into your retirement routine
  6. And for goodness sake, take care of your health

Using these tools and skills will move your retirement from just surviving to thriving.

The Day My Life Became More Colorful

Three years ago, my life got a whole lot more colorful.  Three years ago I retired from my full-time career of 35 years.  My husband had already retired from his career a couple years prior and was patiently waiting for me to come and play. Making the decision to retire is not for the faint of heart, especially if you had a career that you enjoyed. I was a registered nurse for my entire career, spending the last 15 years in nursing education. While I really enjoyed most of my career, eventually the long meetings and cyclic issues got annoying instead of challenging and you know it is time to leave the work to the next generation who are excited to move in.

Excerpt from my journal on Friday, June 21, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.:

I walked the halls of North Idaho College Health & Sciences Building one last time.  I did a final memory lane tour:  the auditorium that I taught countless lectures in, the Learning Lab that I guided nervous nursing students through skills, the Simulation Center that I consulted with the architect to build, the conference room where we had countless boring, occasionally heated, sometimes productive and always long meetings, the staff kitchen/lunch room where I poured numerous cups of coffee and caught up on co-workers’ lives.

My office is clean and I am still waiting for the last of my 18,000+ emails to delete.  I moved into this office when the building was first built and I have been the only one to occupy it, until next fall when it is passed on to the next director of nursing.  It is time.  

Cleaning out drawers and electronic records brought a flood of memories.  It has been a great career, but it has taken its’ tole on me.   Especially these last 3 ½ years as the Director of the Nursing Program. Goodbye North Idaho College.   I have been proud of my job.   I received more than I have given and hopefully affected other’s lives in a positive way.   Shutting down this computer in office #260 of the Health & Science Building one last time.

On my last day I locked the door and headed to my car with tears in my eyes.  It was the only car left in the lot at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday during the summer.  It was decorated with balloons, red roses and a big banner!  My thoughtful husband and sister knew it would be tough walking out the doors one last time.  The weight of sadness was quickly replaced with a wonderful sense of euphoria and freedom.  And suddently my life got more colorful. In closing that door, my life went from this,

Last day of work at my office (it never looked this clean while working).

To this:

My new office at home.

After I left work that last day, the doors of freedom opened wide. Beyond those doors were lots of open days with colorful things to do. There is no doubt that retirement is an adjustment, but is also the opportunity of our lives. It is a journey waiting to happen and we are the artists of it. This blog will focus on transforming our careers into a retirement adventure. Remember that brand new 64 pack crayon box you wanted as a kid; bonus if it came with a sharpener in it? Well, opening up that new crayon box for the first time is what retirement is like. We get to create and color in our days the way we want. The possibilities are endless so lets start coloring outside the lines!