Monday, August 30, 2010

Texting on a Ditch

I awoke tingling with excitement. I clicked on the light and rushed into the kitchen to brew up a cup of cappuccino which is one of my “can’t skip it” routines.
Then I shuffled upstairs for one of my early morning rituals, a bath; gotta clean up for ditch day. I needed to hurry, slip on some clothes, and grab a piece of toast. This was a beat the clock morning. The plan was to meet Karen, my chosen partner in crime, at 7:30 a.m. The crack of dawn departure was to avoid any of my colleagues from showing up at my house and dragging me to the last day luncheon. I played the sly undercover game with them. When anyone would say, “You’re coming to the luncheon, right.” I would reply, “Uh `huh,” while delivering it with an affirmative tone. Yet a careful listener could detect that an evening out of the accent could actually produce, “Uh Uh,” which is a subtle, but barely discernible, no. Lying is not a comfortable position for me. But I can slide into a Clinton version of the truth or lack of it and walk away with an unscathed conscience.

When the idea of a ditch day was first presented, Karen got busy and chartered an entire day of fun including: breakfast at the Beachcomber, a visit to the Laguna Museum of Art, and lunch at the Ritz Carlton.
I pulled up at Karen’s house.
She approached the car with an expression of someone who had won the lottery and with good reason. She retired as well as I, but her day of freedom started two days earlier. She slid into the seat next to me. I turned and announced, “O.K. Thelma. We’re not going to careen off the edge of a cliff, but are you ready to push the accelerator to the floor board and grab that breakfast at the Beach Comber?” “I’m always ready to eat, Carol”, was her reply. You could feel the mounds of tension from our combined 63 years of service as teachers evaporate as we sped down Pacific Coast Highway. It was as if we had hit the fountain of youth and dropped back into our early twenties with its accompanying vastness of opportunities spread before us.

Soon I turned and asked if she would take over the wheel. I explained my plan to text my teacher friends a salutation timed to go off during the faculty meeting. Then I chuckled over the vision of all the messages pinging and ringing at once while the principal was delivering his message. Karen threw me a barely tolerable look. I’m not sure if it was my immaturity, inappropriate tech obsession, or both that elicited her response but she agreed to drive for awhile. I giggled on and defended myself with an, “I gotta be me,” statement. Transparency is the companion of good friendship.

The trouble I faced which is not uncommon among texters is a new phone. I couldn’t figure out how to punch out the message. I knew I better solve it soon since the meeting was about to begin. The stop and go of the brakes reflecting the recent construction in the area set my stomach into queasy. That motivated me into getting the job done quickly. Eventually I pecked out~

I ditched. I’m following Tara’s footsteps. On my way to the Ritz Carlton.

Then I clicked the names of the recipients and pressed send. What I noticed was that the message was sent sequentially rather than simultaneously which was even better. The cacophony of ringers would create a crescendo effect of distraction. Content, I sat back and enjoyed the scenery.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dork No More

Fortunately, over the years, that uptight teenage girl was transformed. Blame it on the fact that I liberated myself from my parent’s influence and actually moved out. This happened during the sixties which launched a lifting of my world view. The culture, music, strivings for equality and efforts for peace, pushed me beyond my black and white thinking.
I had no desire to sit at attention in a stark room with peeling paint again simply because it was the right thing to do. Once I tasted choice, I never went back.

So how does this tie into my retirement? I realized the last day of my career would be spent pupil free. I would be expected to enter data into school records, prepare work samples to give to all the student’s new teachers, and attend the last day luncheon.

Ugh! It was the luncheon that revulsed me.I knew the score on that one. People would stand up and say nicety things while I cringed. Then there would be the goodbyes. And I hate goodbyes. I would rather be drizzled in fat, pan fried, and served as the main dish. I wanted to leave quietly. 

This wasn't the time to slide back into my old childhood ways. I had a alternate plan. I could negotiate for what I wanted and, at the same time, redeem my dorky past. Fifty years later, I would join those with the spirit of adventure. I would  DITCH! That’s right I would fling aside my compulsion to act appropriately. I would escape. I knew just the right person to accompany me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Digging up the Bones

The final day of school was fast approaching I began to dust off the artifacts of my past in order to  piece together the essence of the "me" before I chose teaching as a career. While digging up these old bones, I uncovered a relic that reflected the crescendo of my teenage life as a dork. That's right dork, one who experiences uneasiness living in one’s flesh. A person who doesn’t beat to one’s own drum but can’t even find a drum to beat...

It was the last day of my junior year of high school, I sat in choir waiting for class to begin. A voice rang out over the loudspeaker.
It was rare to be interrupted during instructional time. It sounded official, but not familiar. The voice started by congratulating the senior class for its academic excellence and outstanding citizenship. Other accolades were mentioned of which I can’t remember. Then it exclaimed that, as a reward, the entire student body was dismissed. At first, an eerie hush swept over the class. Then a deafening cheer rang through out the school. Students bolted from their chairs. I watched familiar bodies pressing to squeeze through the door frame. Some carried expressions of disbelief while others looked as though the just pressed off on a descent down a Raging Water slide. But a few of us lingered. Dutifully we sat in our chairs and looked up at our teacher. He was stunned. “That wasn’t official,” he announced. Then he reached for the intercom phone and called the office. "Uh huh. Yes. Really, who was it? A student! Unbelievable.” When he hung up, he turned to us and said, “You need to stay here. Go to your classes as usual.” A military brat, it never occurred for me to do anything but what I was told. The dork in me stayed. Yet as I eyed the other students back sides racing through the door and out into a world of freedom, another part of me wished I had joined them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Count Down

It was 7:50 a.m. As I walked up the grey slanted ramp to my classroom, a feeling of disbelief overcame me. Gees, I thought, just thirty more turns of the key in the lock and tugs on the door, and I’m out of here. These last few months seemed like a blur. Then, while balancing my coffee cup, I slipped the key in the lock and yanked the door open. Once inside the students clambered around me vying for my attention. “My momma’s gonna have a baby.” “Look at my new shoes.” “Teacher, I like your dress.” A little finger with a miniscule scrape is thrust in my face as a voice rings out, “I’m bleeding.” One child offers me a smudged and crumbled piece of paper. “Here’s my homework.” My chest tightened as I absorbed the call of so many. I always wished I had the energy and stamina to meet the needs of each scrubbed and unscrubbed face that looked up at me throughout my career. Today was no different. I took a deep breath.

My eyes circled the room. The white board, word wall, art work, student writing, math, and science bulletin boards decorating the walls of this bungalow, that housed so many students over the years, soon would be torn down and enter my past. A sense of relief mixed with hesitancy overcame me. It marked the beginning of shedding “the teacher” and reclaiming the person that lived years before deciding upon a teaching career. Then I walked to my teaching chair, called the class to order, and began the day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pontificating Potluck

Once I reached the stage of celebrating, it kept on growing. I knew I wanted others to join me including family, friends, and colleagues who worked at my first school. What could be casual enough for me to feel comfortable and enjoyable for everyone else? Immediately I thought of a potluck. Potlucks have always held a warm place in my heart. They have been a way to mark changes and share food, as well as, catch up on each other’s lives. Since we have grown in closeness, age, and broadening girths over the past twenty five years, a potluck featuring everyone’s favorite appetizer seemed perfect. Nibbling on small morsels of tasty food would be just right.

I envisioned everyone gathering around the dining room table, sampling the shared treats while joining in on conversation. When my sister heard of my plans, she immediately offered to provide Prosecco, Italian champagne. Now that would add a party spirit and a little reminder of Tuscany. The plans seemed solid, so I created an Evite, and watched the names in the confirmation column roll in.

Weeks later, my plans kept growing. I began to chuckle, as a thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be great to have a corner of my yard devoted to “Old Geezer” games? Everyone could play these games and help me transtion into the spirit of retirement. I knew horse shoes is typically an older person’s game. So I spoke to a friend who loaned me her antique set. That made it even more fitting. I considered shuffle board, but that was too complicated to set up. Bingo was a must. Again, my sister stepped up. A few days after she heard my idea, there was a knock on my door. There she stood with a retirement bingo game. Great!  I decided that card games were another must. I caught myself laughing whenever I was hit with a visual of my friends playing a circuit of geriatric games.
While in public, these giggles would raise a few eyebrows. In the past, I would have felt a tinge of embarrassment. Instead, I thought, Who cares! Aren't seniors allowed to live outside the typical social constraints? I can laugh myself silly if I want.
The anxieties I experienced in the earlier phase of my decision to retire faded. I was too busy for that nonsense. I had to  immerse myself in preparing for these parties

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hmmm How to Celebrate!

Over the years, I have hosted many retirement parties in my home. Typically the invitation was posted and all were welcome. Former principals were contacted and gave testimony to the person’s career accomplishments. In some cases it turned into a hilarious roast. Yet I’m not one for pomp and circumstance. Nor do I like to be the center of attention. Thoughts of a traditional party caused me to want to duck and cover.

Each day I glanced at my retirement clock and watched the numbers move to the negative. Time was closing in. I hadn’t formally let the entire staff know of my plans to retire. Although I didn’t want to go out in the typical way, a small voice echoed inside me. ‘You can’t just walk away, go home, and read a book. You know the value of acknowledging important crossings. Where is that person who planned a party when turning 50? What happened to the woman who invited friends to reign in her 60th at a farmhouse in Tuscany?’ Then I quickly shoved the issue into the recesses of my mind and went on about my day.
One morning I awoke with such clarity. Big Sur was it. I could invite those who shared a kindred spirit to join me. That is where I wanted to celebrate. It was the perfect place. The contrast of the soothing sound of the ocean crashing against a craggy weather beaten coast was metaphorical. In my life, there were times when I faced overwhelming challenges only to be soothed by the comforting support of others. When standing on the edge of the Big Sur Coast, the synergy of these forces has always energized me and, at the same time, brought me peace. A sense of excitement overcame me. I couldn’t wait to travel up the coast into this piece of paradise.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I can recall the slightest nuances of my surroundings the morning of 911: the darkness of the room before sunlight, the fabric of the blouse I wore, even the color of my shoes. I turned the T.V. on and left the room as the newscaster’s startled voices rose to a pitch. I rushed back to witness the impact of a plane as it hit the Twin Towers. I watched the replay over and over again stunned. When an image of the second plane entered the screen and crashed, its impact was more devastating than the first. It was clear that our country had been attacked. Then those massive buildings collapsed into an enormous cloud of dust, a moving remnant of the remains. The horror on the faces of those it chased throughout the New York streets, stole my sense of security. While they raced for refuge, I longed for a retreat as well.

With most disasters, one can file away the images and return to routine. The impact is short-lived. This was different. The reports of security blunderings and rise of extremists were alarming. Our lives were not temporarily changed. This was permanent. The constant diet of report after report left me feeling disheartened about humanity and the future. The political world appeared disconnected from reality. There was a residue of uneasiness and uncertainty. The remnants of 911 spread from days into months into years.

Some years later, on a Saturday evening, I turned on CNN. The images of ordinary people moved across the screen. It drew my attention. I leaned in. These people were being honored for extraordinary contributions to humanity. Their humble backgrounds were being outlined along with the pivotal point in wich they decided to make a commitment to relieve other's sufferings. I choked up hearing how each had taken a step outside themselves to notice a unique need. Not only did they see a crack in our social strata but their hearts lead them to take the necessary steps to make a change. Each one’s contribution was unique. Each brought comfort and help to the forgotten. My spirits lifted.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
- Mother Theresa
My Retirement Plan would be incomplete if I failed to make a contribute to others. How could I make an impact upon the world even if it were microscopic? The heroes and I were separated by one factor. They took action. I wanted to do the same. Volunteer became my last column.

I am drawn to working at Crystal Cove as a docent in the tide pools. The intricate balance of life in those habitats and the the geology surrounding them interests me. I could combine my teaching background with a new adventure. Teaching children a reverence for living things would ripple into the future. So I included Crystal Cove in the column.
The lack of financial support for teachers, due to our current financial crisis, leaves many of my teaching friends without support. Since reading is my area of interest, I plan to help organize their reading programs. I typed Alvarado under Crystal Cove.

There is another area I would like to explore. I have a desire to volunteer for an organization or political cause that advances the welfare of children. Right now it is an unknown Yet as I volunteer in these other areas, I will wait for it to reveal itself.

Stare into a bucket of water until your reflection appears. Then gently pour the reflection out onto the ground. Soon it will evaporate and become a cloud. Then it will rain and you will be part of the great cycle of replenishments and growth.

--Michael Leung

The structure of my plan is complete. Yet it is just that, a plan, a start. It remains on my desktop as a guide. I intend for it to be flexible and serve as a resource. As I put it into practice, I will delete those that are not a match and include others in its place.

Hmm…I just reread it. I need a nap!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Loss and Spiritual Quest

The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeing new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.

~ Marcel Proust ~

After the death of my mother and ex-husband, I felt abandoned. The mystery of life itself possessed me. One late afternoon, I cut a lily from a plant once preened by my mother. It's slick stem, broad venous white petal, and deep yellow stamen enraptured me. While slipping it into a water filled vase, I was struck by the inexplicable. This lily plant, formerly nutured by my mother, had outlived her. How could that be?

I traveled the old haunts my ex and I once rollicked. Sand that had seeped between our toes and swept against our faces continued to rearrange itself in the shifting currents of the beach breezes. That sand now grated against my skin.

While driving throughout the city of my childhood, the grayness of familiar concrete streets stretched out before me, a solid reminder that life ultimately betrays us. Jaunts we frequented still stood upright. But he remained a shadow in my mind. This promise of life appeared so hollow.

Late one night, while walking along the boardwalk , a cold breeze pressed against my cheeks. As the union of my mother and father’s flesh encased me, my path was lit by the soft reflection of the sun upon an otherwised darkened moon. The contrast of these bodies was ominous. Looking out upon the water that night, I reconciled with the inequity of my existence. I was determined to defy death’s separation. Although the presence of those I loved had darkened, I would serve as a source of light. I would invite my mother and ex into my new life. Not morbidly but in a comfortng way. I would live life for three.

Spirituality was another area I wanted to explore in retirement. Yet I struggled to add entries to this column. It would have to remain open. As a child I was raised in a fundamental religious household. Like all children, I was a literalist. I accepted the teachings of my childhood at face value. As I grew, so did my awareness of  the vastness of other religions. The inconsistencies of  mine began to haunt me. I do crave a spiritual community. So far I have not found one. I would have to be content with the act of exploring rather than arriving.
Carl Jung’s observation rings true…
The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting Physical

I awoke this morning convinced that I solved one of mankind's enigmas, human weight gain. It was clear to me that one's life span is directly related to body weight. Well, isn’t it? A case in point, I graduated from high school forty five years ago. So with each advancing year, my weight increased by …? Let me check.
Yikes! After stepping on the scale, I could swear I heard myself screaming.
Enough of this theory.
Back to my mission, charting my RETIREMENT plans.

The next column I created was entitled, Physical Wellbeing, which is pivotal to an active and joyful retirement. This is surely an area I could improve upon. Several years ago, while working on my master’s degree, I experienced a personal evolution. I was slowly transformed from an upright position to a slouched sit. My core muscles turned to jello. I was sure others were snickering as I girated from one place to the other. Excruciating back pain came in waves. My chiropractor, Dr. Betty,  recommended Yoga. The results were amazing. No more spasms, as long as I attended regularly. Yet those core muscles are hungry beasts screaming, flex, flex,  flex. Yoga (3-5x’s per week) appeared under the heading, Physical Wellbeing.

When considering exercise, I felt drawn to the opportunities like a small child at a Carney show. The booths of possibilities were expansive. Yet I quickly chose weight lifting. I’m aware that it is one way to score points toward reducing bone loss, a plus to an aging woman. Right now my time is too limited. But when my retirement days begin to ebb and flow, I surely could insert weight lifting into my routine. My muscles ached already as I tapped out Weight Lifting (4-5x’s per week).

Although walking was already a part of my weekly schedule, I could make it a little more enticing by matching  
it with scenic locations. I would have plenty of time to drive a little further and enjoy some of Southern California sights. Simple, so
I entered Walking followed by the bullets: Seal Beach, Boardwalk, Marina, Bluffs, Crystal Cove.

I expired all of my plans for regular activity. A few more were of interest but would probably not be as frequent: Bicycling and Kayaking. Collectively they would all keep my endorphins pumping while reducing body weight.

Retirement Bliss

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Staying Active

Hmmm…I knew the days were about to stretch out before me. I was determined to avoid a future of chair breathing exercises and day dreaming so tap pity tap my fingers translated the next heading into, Activities. Since writing is entertainment and I have hopes of becoming a children’s picture book author, I entered, Daily Writing (2 hrs.).
I took a deep breath; sounded good. So I moved on to consider other ways of extending my interest. Perhaps I could combine writing with my enjoyment of others. Often friends have suggested that a writing group might be just the right formula. So Writing Group was my next entry. I looked up, pushed away from my computer. This is getting a bit serious, I thought. It was time for a break. I headed for Peet’s Coffee. After grabbing a cappuccino, I sat down and sipped the steaming coffee. Just before I gazed into the bottom of my cup, a reference to the Senior University at California State University at Long Beach came to mind. It offers a writing class. I recall my sister mentioning that she attended a forum of those who completed the spring class. Their readings were excellent. What better way to improve my craft and enjoy the comrade of other writers? When I returned home, the sound of my keyboard echoed as I typed Writing Class.

What next?

As a teacher I am aware that reading and writing are reciprocal. I often used mentor authors to teach my students the craft of writing. So why not be inspired by other children’s authors.

Reading quality literature and the experiences of fellow writers was the obvious next step. I decided to create a list of award winning children’s picture books and research books about the writing process. Writing Down the Bones is just one example. Reading appeared as the next entry.

I took a week end trip to visit my dear friends Judy and Robert in Los Osos. Judy is an “ancient history” expert who has a wide assortment of drums. She learned the art of drumming over the years and participated in drumming circles at spiritual gatherings. Robert recently joined a local drumming group. So when I walked into her living room I was surrounded by an assortment of drums. Scenes of the movie The Visitor flashed in front of me.

I recall smiling as I watched the main character tentatively pick up a drum and begin his rhythmic journey. All I had to do was express an interest and my hosts encouraged me to drum while offering their tips about drumming. An evening with these dear people convinced me that drumming was another activity I could explore. When I returned I added, Drumming Lessons. Now I’m on a roll.

When my interest in signing with Intervac, a teacher’s house exchange surfaced, I decide that I wanted to travel to Paris first. Then my dreams shifted to the South of France. I couldn’t image going either place without the very basics in French. A course is offered through the Senior University. French Lessons followed.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making a Plan

Years ago I joined a book club but found it difficult to squeeze in the required monthly read and charted meeting. I dropped out. Then I rejoined the same book club a year before retiring. Again I couldn't keep up with the commitment. Time continued to strangle my desire to attend. Now that problem’s solved; time is a pleasant stretch before me rather than an albatross. So I clicked in Book Club.

A dear friend, Ellen, serves as a mainline to great people. Her thoughtfulness toward others and interest in photography draws interesting creative souls.

Photo by Ellen
As our children were growing up, she formed a Wednesday Night Beach Club. We used to meet at Mother’s Beach in Long Beach each Wednesday and bring our little ones. That way, we let the beach entertain the children while we engaged in much needed adult talk. Once they grew up, these meetings transformed into the Wednesday Walking Group. Tat up tap-tat up tap Wednesday Walking Group appeared in the column. It would guaranteee a monthly walk while accompanied by interesting women friends.
So what could be my next entry?
Forty years ago I stuffed a back pack with the basics, strapped it on my back, purchased a ticket to London, and set out on a three month trek through the British Isles and the European mainline. My thumb served as my ticket to transportation.
The architecture, art museums, and expanse of cultures stunned me. It was one of the most glorious periods of my life. Before returning I stood in the streets of Paris determined that I would return within months. Well those months turned into years. Life has many distracters.
A place in my head cleared as I neared my last few weeks before stepping away from the yolk of work. I found myself tapping out House Exchange. Although my finances are secure, my desire to travel would surely outstretch my income. I could expand my options for travel by joining and invite friends to join me on my planned excursions. After all the greatest expense when traveling is the cost of housing. I could virtually eliminate that cost and pass it on to others.

A sigh of relief overcame me as I developed each plan to meet my emotional needs. It all looked so promising that I decided to move on and focus upon my daily activities. How would I structure them? What would replace my tightly organized work world…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oy Vay! I'm Retiring

OK, I’ll admit it. I take life a little too seriously sometimes. So when I decided to stop teaching and tap into my retirement stash I accumulated for, well, let’s say, a number of years, the timing seemed right. The death of my mother at the age of ninety five, and the sudden death of my ex-husband twenty days later heightened my awareness that life was evaporating around me. I could be next. It was time to retire.
Although I was hit with a momentary surge of excitement, I soon took note of my internal dialogue and its sudden turn toward the dark side…

“Egad,” I thought. “I live alone. Who am I going to talk to…the cats? Ugh! My friends will be working and they’re the core of my social life. What am I doing? Maybe I should reconsider.” I even began to imagine buying a rocking chair.

Did my negative obsession stop there? No…it accelerated. . .

“I lived a highly structured life; up at 5:00 a.m. and off to teach my first grade students. In addition I typically attended meetings, engrossed myself in lesson plans and indulged in “happy hours”. In the absence of all these structured activities, what will I do with myself?”

Moments of near panic dissolved into attempts to reassure myself, “Hey! You’ve got interests. You’ve been independent for years. So what’s the problem?

Then more anxiety would seep in like a bad dream. People would congratulate me and inquire about my plans. Run was my first impulse, but I thought that might be alarming and a bit odd. So I stammered, cleared my throat and gave cursory responses or changed the subject. “Yeah, it’s going to be great. Did you watch Jimmy Fallon last night?”

As a take action person who enjoys problem solving, I began surfing the net to discover how others have managed their transition into retirement. I was especially interested in research featuring single women. Women alone…this had to be the population most adaptable to the changes. Or so I thought…

The reports basically concluded that single women suffer the worst adjustment in retirement. The main reason is the financial disadvantage of single women versus married. Now that problem, I aced. I planned for my financial future and money was not an issue.

After my internet surf, intermittent waves of more anxiety hit me while standing in line, sitting down, driving my car and even while lying down. I was literally mugged by my darkened internal dialogue. Fortunately my planning and organizational skills I developed as a teacher kicked in. I decided to improve the odds that my transition into retirement would be positive. I even took it a little further. I planned on defying research. I was going to be the one single woman that stepped into retirement prepared to have a blast.

Transforming my anxieties in an active plan became my new focus. Instead of conjuring up more fears, I began to envision the factors that would contribute toward a well rounded use of my time. I created a table on my computer and saved it on my desk top. The months prior to retirement I kept adding new ideas as they occurred. Since socializing with friends keeps me happy and grounded, the initial column heading was Social Emotional Needs. The first entry, tat up tap- tat up tap, was Happy Hours. I realized that I had over twenty five friends between the two schools I worked at during my career. I was the one leaving. They weren’t going anywhere. I could join them once or twice a week. Then it occurred to me that I have a wide range of interests and a circle of friends who may want to join me on excursions to art museums, gardens, movies, theatre and day hikes. I also love to kayak. So once again I sat at my computer and tapped out the next heading, Weekly Outings. I listed those who may wish to join me. I planned to call one person a week after planning an interesting activity. Then I typed the list of friends who might join me.