Retirement holidays: Practical antiques and diminished expectations


Clap on!. . . Clap off!

Someone used a clapper on my holiday brain.

The career-years mode always clapped things on about Thanksgiving. Like an automaton, I followed its ON button to get the first batch of fudge and cookies made and in the freezer, holiday decorating accomplished that first weekend (with at least a little touch in every room) and Christmas cards addressed and mailed no later than Dec. 17. Somewhere in that manic month I managed to work in some solitude and peace, since that was the guilt-inducing admonition hanging over my head and urging me to wrap things up so I could enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

Enter retirement and a new set of self-expectations. Yep, the clapper done clapped off.

Here it is December 4. No cookies or fudge can be found in their collector tins in the freezer. I may not send out any Christmas cards for the first time in my adult life. And the decorating so far is confined to a wreath at the door, a lesser wreath on the back porch, a holiday lava lamp on a what-not shelf and, horror-of-horrors, one of those ceramic lighted Christmas trees on a table in the foyer.

You know the kind I mean. The same tree that’s been making the rounds on Facebook. You’re supposed to click “Like” if you remember them.

Like? Heck! We have one and we treasure it. Lemonade Man, the in-house artist, made it in a ceramics class, way-back-when. It’s always the holiday item that brings the most enjoyment when we haul it out of the basement. Lemonade Man says, “Why don’t we use that for our only Christmas tree this year?” I’m tempted, but reply that any presents we wrap to put under it may result in totally hiding the thing.

The Schwan’s man deflated our ceramic tree holiday spirit today when he stepped in the door and said, “Wow!  I feel like I’m in my Grandma’s house. She has a tree just like this.” She made hers in a ceramics class too.

But we no longer care about being embarrassed by our holiday antiques or that we are living in the dark ages of holiday decorating. We’re actually in the same category when it comes to kitchen cookware. Not only do I member cooking in white pyrex dishes with a blue corn flower design, I still use those puppies every day. That’s another Facebook post that keeps taunting me to like it.

Since the clapper clapped off this year, there is no little elf on a shelf whispering me to get a move on. So instead of going downstairs for another load of Ho-Ho, I watch a movie on Netflix in the middle of the day. Shame on me.

Lemonade Man sits at the kitchen table and watches a neighbor put lights on the outside of his house. I casually mention that we have the same kind of lights in a locker in the basement, but then make no protest when he replies, “Well, that’s a good place for them.”

Retirement clapper victims morph into down-sizers. This means that a mountain of unused holiday decorations made a trip to the Goodwill store last spring. Excess items from the linen closet and some kitchen cabinets met the same fate. And when I put away the Thanksgiving decor this week, the ceramic turkey soup tureen and a matching, but chipped platter, got added to the pile of clothing and bedding at the City Union Mission drop-off.

And all those holiday shopping flyers and catalogs that get stuffed in the daily paper or through the mail slot? Don’t tell the statisticians and media folks, but they no longer hold any allure . . . no longer entice us with their promise of the latest must-haves. Whenever we buy anything these days, it’s because it’s a replacement for something that broke. And all purchases are screened with the question, “Is it something that will have to go in an estate sale?”

Christmas will still come to the house of New Retirement Grinches. But it will be more modest and subdued. My daughter-in-law made a pointed comment last weekend about her anticipation of my fudge. And the artificial tree will be brought upstairs on the electric stair-lift that takes away any excuses for not toting heavy things. But even before retirement we learned to keep the lights and the unbreakable ornaments on it, cover it with a plastic bag, and thus save ourselves hours of work each year.

Call us grumpy grinches, but we’re not stressed this year. I’ll go get the tree as soon as we finish this movie. The holiday clapper clapped off and it sure is a relief.

Fear of flying: No longer able to run through airports



One of my favorite blogs, Life in the Boomer Lane, had a popular post about the author flying in cramped seats from Seattle to Chicago, sandwiched in between two football fans, one of whom was invading her space dramatically. It made me realize how long it’s been since my husband and I have flown. 

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a similar piece for my weekly newspaper, remarking about the many changes that were affecting air travel. Can you believe that cell phones and laptops were just then coming into vogue?! Here’s a reprint of that piece:

When Mad Mother and Lemonade Man took to the friendly skies of American (faulty tail sections and all) on Feb. 4, 2000, we’d both been strangers to air travel for about six or seven years. A lot has changed in that time.

The biggest change has been in the number of electronic gadgets in evidence. And it’s not that the cell phones and laptop computers were all that necessary on a Saturday morning. Most of the users were showing off.

As we picked up our bags at the St. Petersburg, FL airport, one guy was talking to his bookie. Earlier, at our layover in Dallas, a plump mother with a cell phone attached to her like a child on a retractable cord, was giving her family a play-by-play: They’ve just called us for boarding . . . I’m now boarding the plane . . . I’m now picking up my Bistro bag snack . . . I’m now looking for seat 24C . . .

The guy across the aisle on our flight to Florida got out his laptop immediately and said it’s what he does now instead of reading a book. Helps the flight time go faster and he doesn’t so much mind that he’s scrunched in a narrow seat for two hours (those seats do seem to have gotten narrower in six years).

Me? I waited to use my laptop until we got to our condo, then used it to help put out three pages of this week’s newspaper from Florida, thus ruining one day that was supposed to have been spent in the sun. But what the heck? It was just as warm in Missouri as in Florida anyway.

On the return trip, we did invest in a low-tech device that has now become a necessity for air travel. Got us one of those carts with wheels to put carry-on luggage on. If you’ve never tried to run from gate 14 in Terminal A of the Dallas airport to gate 39 in Terminal C in only 15 minutes, you haven’t lived. We almost died, actually, on the trip down.

It may be a long time before we fly again, but you can bet the laptop will be riding on that new little cart next time, instead of hanging off the shoulders of someone who got too old to run through airports.

We’ve only flown once since 9/11 and the dramatic changes that ensued after then and were appalled at having to remove our shoes, be frisked and “wanded” into indignity and then made to throw away the bottled water we had just purchased outside the gate. Thus we’ve totally missed the whole body scans.

In these post-retirement days we talk about planning a trip that includes air travel but all we can think about is cabins full of recycled, germ-laden air and cramped seats. It’s enough to make us stay at home.


Zero to Hero Day 1: My blog title says it all



New Tricks for Old Dogs summarizes what the heck I’m doing here . . . a longtime print publisher in the gray old world of newspapers, trying to muddle through a new-world way of communicating and keeping in writing shape.

I retired in October after 30+ years as a small town weekly newspaper editor and publisher. I was extremely fortunate to have an audience for my writing all those years, while being unfortunate to ever have an editor. Being a one-woman show for the length of one career makes me pretty unemployable for a second one. I know, since I’ve tried.

Companies looking for writers and editors these days want young, slim, hungry folks who are “team players” and instinctively know how to be project managers and troubleshoot hardware and software problems, along with knowing how to use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Excel and PowerPoint in their sleep.

Resigned to try to enjoy my retirement by continuing a one-woman show, here I am blogging. And trying to finish a memoir that includes a collection of the humor columns written as the editor/publisher. Also trying to start a business of helping other authors get their work in shape for electronic or print publishing.

This blog is aimed at helping other baby boomers navigate the treacherous waters of retirement and repurposing ourselves. We have a lot of wisdom and experience to share, at least with each other, even if Generation XYZers are not yet ready for it.

I do keep a daily journal, a spiritual one, and realized through my morning musings that we are given blessings and talents so we can share them. This blog is one way of doing that.

In retirement, we can easily succumb to being isolated. Our work-world circle of acquaintances–employees, clients and related friends–are no longer available. If this blog is successful, by the end of 2014, I will have built a new circle of acquaintances online. If successful, someone will start liking this thing and posting comments.

The idea of writing a blog never appealed to me before retirement. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read the thing. But now I view it as a continuation of my newspaper column with a more focused audience of other bloggers and some of my Facebook and twitter friends.

Retirement travel . . . use it or lose it or you’ll get lost in Arkansas



What’s the first thing people assume you’ll be doing when you retire? The unisex answer is traveling (as opposed to fishing for guys and reading novels all day for women).

Actually, traveling has been on our bucket list since 2003 . . . the last time we attempted a road trip. Business, acreage and dog ownership had always intervened to confine our trips to overnight business excursions.

When fall ushered in retirement, after we’d already sold our labor-intensive acreage, it was time to finally take a trip. However, we hadn’t become dog-less. We have two spoiled rotten Lhasa-Apsos that we wouldn’t foist on any dog boarding facility or relative, so we almost abandoned plans to go visit my brothers in Southeast Texas for the first time in eight years. Upon calling Brother #2, whose home was to be our hotel for the trip, he urged us to bring them with us. Reluctantly, we agreed.

Do you remember what a chore it was to pack for a road trip with an infant? Double that, then mix in food preparations for animals that are used to nutritional, whole-food cooking that does not resemble commercial dog food, and you’ll get the idea how much work it was just to get ready to drive halfway down the continent.

And now that we’re old fogeys with night driving challenges, we knew we couldn’t make the 13 hour trip in one stint. We researched hotels that would allow pets, made one reservation, and packed for ourselves. In addition, my brother had put in a request for my mom’s mayonnaise cake, a recipe that didn’t do well in the lower altitudes of Texas, so that was a last-minute preparation, following cleanup from a family birthday party the day before we left.

We thought we were pretty smart, setting up a doggie playpen in the back of the Chevy Impala, folding down the seats and installing a 3″ memory foam mattress, adding a blanket and pillows and a few doggie toys. Of course, the large plug-in cooler took up half the space, already crowded with luggage, photo albums for sharing with family, a bag full of the electronic media that seem permanent extensions of our hands, and my sleep apnea machine. Oh, and don’t forget the mayonnaise cake.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that things have changed in the travel world since we last hit the highways and byways. For God’s sake, they’ve even renamed the first highway we took out of town to I-49! When we looked at the Trip-Tik handed to us at the AAA office, we were lost from the first moment. And it didn’t end there. Lemonade Man, being Indian and all, tried to be my navigator but I was too stubborn to listen to his directions. Once in Arkansas and finally reaching Fort Smith, I had the bright idea to take a loop around the city and avoid all the stop-and-go traffic. I was headed south, by golly, and could not get it through my thick skull that loops on your named route sometimes will have you going east or west. Well, somewhere along that loop I looked to the right and saw a sign for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. That was not on the trip route.

Managed to make it back into Arkansas just in time to hit the Ozark Mountain portion of the highway that goes along a ridge with switchbacks and hairpin turns and slower traffic lanes. By that time, Lemonade Man was in the back seat with the dogs and getting pretty impatient with my oohs and ahhhs over the beautiful scenery. It was getting dark, he was tired and cranky and our overnight destination was pegged at another three hours away. He kept repeating ‘Mena” in my ear like a sickening mantra. That’s Mena, Arkansas, instead of our intended Texarkana, and we finally arrived there a little after dark.

The first hotel had a large “No Pets” sign. The second looked like it rented rooms by the hour. The third was not a major chain but would have to do. They only charged $8 a doggie head extra, plus they had a great supper buffet. The only negatives by then were dogs that barked at every passing truck and a too-hard hotel mattress.

The second morning found us determined to get to Texas in record time. We just hadn’t figured on getting lost in Texarkana. I tried to follow the signs that would have put us on I-30/59, but Lemonade Man was determined to keep us on 71 . . . until we reached the dead end downtown. He got behind the wheel when I lost my cool completely after listening to his directions and getting even more lost in a residential area. In two minutes, he stopped to ask directions and we got back on track on I-30. 

But it was me who took us off track through two more cities, ultimately adding 200 extra miles to an already long trip. Ultimately, we had Thanksgiving with my brothers and extended family, sipping on gumbo and saltines in what they told us was a traditional Coon A– feast. The mayonnaise cake was a total disaster and inedible. Maybe they’ve changed the formulation for the white stuff since my mother made it 30 years ago. More likely, I’m just not the cook my mother was.

The dogs got along well with my brother’s aging canine and caused their feline to be confined to quarters. They enjoyed the run of a large fenced yard, with one of them finding a nest of fire ants and getting an unplanned shower, while the other found the cat litter box and helped herself to the contents, then got sick.

On the way home, we took a route that didn’t go through mountains. That shaved off several miles and a few hours. The only mishaps on the return voyage were frequent bathroom stops brought on by the gumbo and being charged $10 a doggie head at the Paris, TX hotel. Once home, we discovered a really neat invention. It’s called MapQuest and it lines out your route and even talks you through it. Once we find a dog sitter, we may be ready for another road trip.



Retirement primer: Teaching old dogs new tricks

When you retire, the learning doesn't stop. It's just time to stop chasing cars.

When you retire, the learning doesn’t stop. It’s just time to stop chasing cars.

Someone should have warned us about this retirement thing. They should have given us some sage advice that could have prevented the mild (as yet) malaise that set in by the first full month after selling a business and going on Social Security.

It would have helped to know the following:

• The moment you creep toward that magic age of 65, whether you’re officially retired or not, your phone and mail will be inundated with solicitations by insurance companies, reverse mortgage outfits and community volunteer organizations. Many of them entice you with a free dinner at a posh restaurant so they can strong arm you about shifting your retirement funds into fixed annuities, then try to make you feel guilty if you don’t rush right out to transfer those hard-earned bucks. Save yourself some grief and pay for your own night out.  Heck, even the hearing aid purveyors want to give you a $10 gift card to come and get a free hearing test. And if you don’t know how to say no at this stage of life, your retirement will turn into a community volunteer’s nightmare and busier than work life ever thought about being.

The folks that eat away at your time are still in the 9-5 world and just trying to earn a living, bless their little hearts. But they take up (make that waste) a lot of your time. Schedule them judiciously or just tell them politely you don’t need to tour a timeshare because you just bought an RV. You don’t need dental insurance because you have dentures. You don’t need new windows or siding because you just retired and have no disposable income. You’ve already invested your retirement funds and life insurance cash with your longtime and trusted agents. Or, do as my husband often does to get rid of a call center salesperson. He adopts a foreign accent and tells them the owner of the house is out of the country.

• While it may seem so appealing, now that you’re not going to the office every day, to stay in  your pajamas until 11 a.m. sipping coffee and playing on the ipad, the new wears off quickly. You’re reduced to crankiness and feeling totally out-of-sorts and finally realize it’s because you haven’t shampooed your hair, had your skin pores awakened with a hot shower or just generally taken care of yourself.

A good rule here is to develop some kind of routine that mimics your old workaday one. Okay, sleep an extra hour if it suits you, but go for a walk or get on the treadmill, hop in the shower, get dressed like you’re going to the office  (sans the earrings and makeup if you don’t feel like it) and do something useful.

• For many retirees, once the excitement of a new way of non-pressured life wears off, depression can set in. Where’s the motivation now? Where’s the purpose and the reason to get out of bed? The amount of seratonin and dopamine in our brains is already diminished at this age, so we’re in a position to get completely mentally compromised in retirement.

It’s important in retirement to re-purpose ourselves. Shift the skill set we acquired in our long careers into something we can continue to use so it doesn’t rust. Why do you think I’m writing a blog, for God’s sake?! The habits and ego boosts gained over 25 years of writing a regular newspaper column will not go quietly into the night. If I don’t feed the little monsters they’ll just fade away and leave me a blubbering and speechless idiot. Some would probably prefer that, but it ain’t gonna happen near soon.

• When you retire, if you’re joining a spouse in this new lifestyle, realize that sudden togetherness, full-time, is fraught with emotional land mines. We’ll leave that whole subject for another blog.