Retirement revelations: A month of Sundays and limited income



Everyone I used to know in my former life asks if I’m enjoying retirement. Well, the answer is “yes and no.”

It’s wonderful not to live by the clock and a weekly deadline anymore . . . to sleep in until 7 or even 8. To put off cleaning the house and doing laundry until a Saturday, when you always used to do it anyway when in the middle of your career.

But as a recovering workaholic, the transition from boring ahead full steam and owning our own business, to selling out and retiring, then being stuck in a home office twiddling our thumbs on Facebook, is an almost insurmountable sea change.

I’m trying to enjoy a life of leisure, truly I am. But here’s a catchphrase of caution for all those who are preparing for this big milestone called retirement: Limited income.

Now that we have the time to enjoy ourselves and travel, the money isn’t available, unless we want to cash in an IRA or a life insurance policy. Have you checked the price lately for a Mississippi River cruise? You could send a kid to college for what that costs!

So, we stay home and redefine traveling as something like a trip to the new Sprouts Farmers Market a few miles away.

The worst part of this whole transition is a new social isolation, brought about in part by our move from a small, close knit community to a large metro area. We not only left a business and the many daily social interactions that afforded, but we traded the hometown folksiness of Hamilton, MO, population 1800, for a place where we seldom interact with our neighbors. When a lady who lived across the street died recently, we learned from reading her obituary that she was a talented musician and a former professor. That caused us to berate ourselves for falling into the city trap of not taking time to get acquainted. Shame on us!

So, we recommit ourselves to searching out new circles in the city. I got a library card, joined a book discussion group and plan to join the other seniors at the local YMCA doing water aerobics and maybe Yoga. We go church shopping on Sundays. We strike up conversations with strangers at the doctor’s office (which has occupied a huge chunk of our retirement schedule). We also spend a lot of time answering robo calls that tell us we are pre-qualified for a medical alert device, a free alarm system or the best Medicare supplement insurance plan.

When our eyes open in the morning, we immediately recite the day of the week. We need to be prepared with that information, just in case our family doctor gives us the screening test for dementia. But it really doesn’t matter. Retirement days are all a blur of Sundays, with a few Saturdays thrown in.

It’s’ only been six months, so we should give ourselves a psychological break. We will adjust to this new, self-centered way of life. We will find new activities and people to pin our schedule around, including our first grandchild that’s due in September. But in this transition, we find ourselves anxiously seeking news of former faces and places, delighting in the progress and growth we learn about, and sighing with a tinge of regret at having left them.

Veggies with leftover Halloween candy, please



The old admonition to eat your veggies takes on new meaning in retirement.

It’s so easy not to, you know. Who wants to peel and chop? Now that you’re on a fixed income, who can afford to continue shopping on the outside aisles of the supermarket?

All these excuses vaporized the week I had two cooking disasters in a row, brought on by feeling compelled to clean out cabinets and the freezer by using up old stuff. There’s a reason for those expiration dates, kiddo, says me to self in disgust. You can’t expect a box of Jambalaya mix that’s two months beyond expired to taste good (were those weevils that wobble in the bottom of that box?), especially when paired with some shrimp that was frozen in a salt brine in China. The whole batch got thrown in the trash, where it should have gone before gracing the cooktop. Neither did the whiting filets that were just a little freezer-burned add much pizazz to a new fish soup recipe. But then what could one expect when the carrots were too dehydrated from their month-old resting place in the crisper, and the ground spices had been in the cupboard for five years? The dogs really liked the whiting. We resorted to nuking a frozen pot pie for our supper.

It was the pot pies and their sister TV dinners that proved the straws that broke this cook’s reluctant, procrastinating and lazy back. Realizing that our menus had featured two of those low-quality entrees in a row made me realize we were trapped in a fast-food hell that could only be solved by pre-planning and chopping.

Extra motivation for this change in culinary habits came from having a mate with diabetes and digestive challenges who has to greet the day with fresh evidence of his sins the previous day through a blood glucose test. In addition, we’ve both become increasingly concerned about the well-being of a relative we care for through grocery shopping and bill paying. All she seems to put on her grocery list are mushy, white, salty things, plus a new supply of frozen dinners and pot pies. Sometimes she just skips meals.

A survey by Ross Laboratories found that 30 percent of seniors skip at least one meal a day and another 16% don’t consume enough calories to maintain adequate nutrition. We’re addressing our relative’s situation by inviting her over for a meal with us once a week (where she eats heartily) and checking into Meals on Wheels. We also throw in a few healthy choices she hasn’t asked for when doing her shopping. And in case depression and loneliness were the culprits in her poor eating habits, we got her a mature cat who needed a good home. The two have become fast friends and now watch television together and snuggle on the couch for a nap.

As for us old folks taking care of an older folk, we’re trying to improve our eating and cooking habits. I sat down Sunday afternoon with a few favorite cookbooks, after doing a freezer, fridge and pantry inventory. The rest of the week’s meals are planned, from breakfast through snacks. It wasn’t easy. And I have to admire the school lunch ladies and dietitians at nursing homes and hospitals in their challenge of offering tasty and healthy entrees every day. Some of my plans had to be revised upon discovering they were too skimpy on veggies and/or fruit.

But you know what? It’s amazing what a relief it is to be able to answer the odious question of what’s for dinner by producing a written document instead of the pat reply, “I don’t know. What sounds good?” or “What do you want?”

And there was no boss to object or employees to roll their eyes in disapproval when I got up from breakfast and started chopping something for lunch, or when I finished lunch and made this evening’s dessert. Instead of realizing, halfway through the day, that there was nothing pulled out of the freezer for supper, I just looked at my menus for the day and retrieved the package of lean ground beef for tacos. It will now be ready when I am.

Lest you detect a note of self-righteousness here, let  it be known to all that I’m having a big struggle with the plate of leftover Halloween candy that calls out every time I walk by. That is not one of my menu selections, but bad habits can’t be overcome overnight or we’d have nothing to feel guilty about.

P.S. For additional information about helping a senior in your life with nutrition concerns, check out these web pages:

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.