I am pleased to be a guest on Denyse Whelan’s blog this week in her series, “Women of Courage.”
Denyse and I “met online” through blogging when she discovered my Sunday Stills photo challenge that I have hosted for over three years. Denyse is a resident of Eastern Australia and survivor of head and neck cancer. Like me, Denyse is a retired fellow educator and we hit it off with our interests in blogging and photography.
The following is an excerpt from her post.
What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?
I’ve never really been afraid of anything, being raised in nature and the outdoors. My temperament requires that I exist without uncertainty and a lot of structure, so you can imagine how 2020 has treated me (and the rest of us)!
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that everyone of us has shown immense courage and faith simply by existing in a world-wide pandemic, the likes none of us has ever seen.
But if I could define “courage,” I would describe that over the years, I have taken several life-changing leaps of faith, most recently:
At 55, having given 32 years of service to my long-term job, I retired with a decent pension while continuing to teach at the university and take on more classes. Have you ever retired? It takes a bit getting used to, even though I considered myself “semi-retired” at the time.
But more notably, my biggest act of courage was to buy property in another state, build a new home there and completely retire. Imagine leaving a successful teaching job after 10 years? Imagine packing up belongings in a house you’ve lived in for 32 years? And doing it all during a pandemic where uncertainty was the operative word of the year.
I have hinted in a post and in several comments lately that when my hubby retires at 2020’s end, we are moving to the Spokane, Washington area. If you are thinking Seattle, move your finger on the map to the East closer to the Idaho border and Spokane resides there. We will be the area known as Nine Mile Falls to be exact, along the Spokane River. If you missed the post you can read more details here.
We closed on the property in mid-March, just before the disruption of Covid-19 closed the world down.
In mid-May, once both California and Washington “re-opened,” we decided to make the trip to Spokane to meet with the builder for the property. The house in the background is our neighbor’s.
Weather or Not
The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there.
I have lived in the same house for over 32 years. My youngest daughter was one month old when we moved in.
People ask me why I would choose to move from California to the cold North of Washington State. Having lived near Portland Oregon for two years as a child, I was old enough to remember many rainy and snowy days. I didn’t hate it!
Being born and raised in San Diego, I remember the weather was fairly mild all year round. Once I made the move to Sacramento in Northern California in my early 20s, did I question that choice.
We get four seasons here but no snow, since we are at 25 feet elevation. I got used to the cold, foggy winters, and hot dry summers. My hubby, on the other hand, has endured Sacramento heat for the last 15 years as his jobs have been outdoors in construction or facility maintenance. He dislikes the heat for that reason!
Spokane is in the alpine high desert although when you drive into the area from the western plains, the landscape changes from rolling hills to evergreens and mountains. It snows there and gets very cold, but the summers are mild. I have visited there during every season and I look forward to the changes in the weather.
As Ilsa from Frozen sings: “The cold doesn’t bother me anyway.”
A sneak peek at a neighbor’s home along the Spokane River. Our property is a few blocks from this.
Although we are buying a larger home, it will be new and modern. Our current home was built in 1962 and is small and somewhat outdated. In 2015, we built a 300 square-foot room addition which created a large master suite. There is nothing like it in this neighborhood and we expect the house to sell quickly in the Fall when we put it on the market.
The house was in need of new siding. Hubby had already replaced the bedroom and dining room windows. After tearing off the siding, he discovered there was NO insulation on the front of the house. No wonder we froze in winter and boiled in summer!
In the gallery, you can see the metamorphosis of the custom siding job my husband built. The old siding was made of shake shingles, common in our neighborhood, and unavailable. Thanks to the disruptions brought on by Covid-19, we spent our last week in March at home working on the house, instead of our planned vacation to Washington.
We still have a few more small projects. Over the last year, we updated the guest bath with a granite countertop and I recently painted the cabinet and vanity.
Hubby already rebuilt and replaced the old backyard deck. Luckily, he has accomplished most everything, now that windsurf season is here. I still need to repaint the kitchen and cabinets.
A Family Affair
Another reason for our journey north is our lack of family nearby. The kids live in San Diego, along with most of our family, with one daughter in the SF Bay area and my dad in the Sierra foothills. None of these places are retirement options for us.
I have heard about many parents retiring to be close to their grown children. Sometimes things change and those kids move again, leaving the parents alone again.
My hubby’s brothers and their extended families (think 35 people for typical Thanksgivings) live in the Spokane area. When we started exploring the idea of moving, I suggested that it would make more sense to move to Spokane. I always enjoyed visiting there and it is spectacularly beautiful.
Rightsizing and Retirement
What is rightsizing you ask? Rightsizing simply means to reduce something to an optimal size. This is an approach to simplifying your lifestyle while keeping what you need and use the most. For many it means moving to a smaller home, living closer to family or amenities, or changing jobs.
For more information, visit fellow blogger and friend, Kathy Gottberg at her blog SmartLiving365.
My husband and I have always lived frugally. We each raised our children as single parents and counted every dollar. For most years, we lived below our means and paid our bills on time. We have excellent credit and low debt. Five years ago, we refinanced our current home and took out a home equity line of credit to build the addition. Now the time has come to retire and move out of an expensive state.
As we age, it is important to consider what we need in a new home. For example, my knees are bad, so no two-story house for me. We toyed with the idea of having a basement, but when we walked around them last year while looking at homes, I realized I cannot navigate steep stairways any longer.
Rightsizing works for us. In our case, we chose a manufactured home which is reasonably priced, and we can get a lot more for our money. Today’s manufactured homes are built in factories rather than on-site and can be upgraded with custom options. I will say it again, these homes are not your granny’s single-wide with metal siding!
Our home will have a back-entry mudroom/utility room. We, and our dogs, can safely enter the house through the back and wipe off the pesky snow and mud. There is a large kitchen, a family room, and plenty of storage space. Even though this new home has 800 more square feet than our current house, it is thoughtfully laid out with modern features. No fixer-upper projects!
Washington State has no income tax so our retirement pensions will go much farther. We may have to pay more for medical, but we both plan to work until age 65. We are waiting until age 67 to draw social security, then we won’t have to work at all.
Can you tell I am excited about the future?
Peace — that was the other name for home.
For Sunday Stills this week, share your thoughts, images, and other creative ideas about your home. Perhaps you have a favorite vacation home, live in an RV full-time, or are searching for your future dream home. Tell us all about it!
Manufactured home images from The Home Boys. Featured images/banner colored in Color Planet.
Join me this Friday for my book review of Walk Your Way to Better, by Joyce Schulman!
This holiday weekend, Labor Day (in the U.S.), is the traditional end to the summer, as school begins, and vacations are all but over.
According to the US Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Imagine what our country (or any) would be without workers. This holiday was to be in honor of the Labor unions that protect workers from harsh and unrealistic conditions as a result of working in factories.
For Sunday Stills, if you haven’t quite guessed the theme, it is WORK!
We value work so much so that we spend most of our childhood preparing for our future careers.
Which of course leads me into education and my second act in life as a university lecturer. Yes, the featured image above is a huge stack of papers to be graded (from last year)! I won’t see a stack like this until later in the semester.
Some students have to “work” for their leisure! Student jumping off the platform “the dive” in one of our classes. This photo is submitted for “Action”for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week.
A summer day in the life at my former career…I trained and supervised lifeguards and swim instructors, and manage to teach a learn-to-swim class every summer. It was still work, but teaching people how to enhance their leisure time and learn new skills was rewarding and satisfying! I might have whistled a note or two while at work!
Here are some earlier posts about “work” when I retired from the day job as aquatics director (from the early days of my blog). Click the links to read more or just check out the images.
Share something related to work for Sunday Stills, even if you are no longer working! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Reminder that there will be no Sunday Stills post for Sept 9.
I’m attending my 40-year high school reunion in San Diego that entire weekend (Thursday through Monday), and will not be able to share posts! You can always use an older theme if you miss it too much, by visiting the Sunday Stills Page.
Here is the link-up!
We had over 80 posts in August! Please welcome and visit our new Sunday Stills participants who shared their great photos and posts in August!
When I ask these questions, the answer I keep coming back to is two-fold:
1. I enjoy talking about the art of writing and the craft of blogging with like-minded people.
2. Being able to freely express my words in published posts and share my photography floats my boat like nothing else!
Connecting with other bloggers is exciting!
I follow and regularly read many bloggers and look forward to their stories, articles, photos and ideas. If the online relationships with other bloggers is gold, then actually meeting them in person is platinum!
Over the last three years of serious blogging, I have managed to meet quite a few bloggers in person. Although most bloggers engage each other by reading and writing comments, conversing face-to-face is beyond special!
What If You Can’t Attend a Blogging Event? The next best thing you can do is to try to meet local bloggers from your own area, city or state. I have been very lucky to meet several fellow bloggers this way. I have found local bloggers by reading their “About me” page. Now you may see why those descriptions might be helpful.
There is just something about going to lunch with another blogger and talking about blogging that is super exciting!
I recently had the joy and pleasure of meeting up with three other bloggers. We all connected both through our blog genre and geographically. Although Janis, Kathy and Donna consider themselves “retirement bloggers,” Liesbet is self-employed and I am semi-retired working as a part-time university lecturer. We all have some freedom to travel and can experience leisure on our terms.
And that was the beauty of our connection.
Donna was in Southern California on a home-exchange, Liesbet is currently house-sitting in San Diego, while Janis and Kathy live in Southern California. I used the holiday weekend and my school schedule to my advantage, along with extensive family who live in San Diego, to factor in my trip south from Northern California. Note: Liesbet could not join us on this weekend, but she met up with Kathy and Donna earlier in the month–she was with us in spirit.
And the planets aligned for a fun weekend.
Another perk of developing online connections is the opportunity to share your insights on other blogs and in turn, offer them the opportunity to guest post on your blog. I think this idea of cross pollination is critical for meeting even more bloggers. When I guest posted for Donna last month, I met and followed other bloggers, extending my own network and creating even more connections.
At our meet-up, we all had questions about blogging. As we chatted, and shared ideas, I learned some important things about my own blog.
Not long ago, through WordPress dot com, my blogging platform, I signed up for WordAds. I see many bloggers who have ads enabled on their websites and there is potential to earn a few dollars. Donna commented that the ads were annoying and tempted her to click off my blog…and she’s a friend and regular reader! How many others felt that way or just clicked away? Egads!
So, as we chatted, I disabled the Word Ads feature. Am I going to miss that $2 a month I was making? Nope!
I also checked some of the widgets in my sidebar while we talked about the pros and cons of Instagram. To my horror, my widget linked not to my Instagram page where I share my other photos, but to my PayPal donation site! I fixed that right away.
For someone who is not intending to monetize my blog at this point, I must have looked like a money-grubbing fool sending unsuspecting readers to endure unwanted ads and then donate money.
But that’s what feedback provides. A fresh look at your own blog.
We also traded some war stories about watermarking images, dealing with social media and privacy issues as a blogger. I told Janis I gave up any kind of privacy attached to my online persona years ago. I asked Donna to Google my name and she found at least 10 pages of links with my name, some from work, school, organizations and blogging. If you blog, you are out there for the world to see!
Out of the four ladies, I had met three of them in person before. Reconnecting was a blast and getting to know Donna and her husband Richard, who hosted our visit, was a joy!
As part of our desert meet-up, we all agreed to share our views and experiences today. Please visit my dear friends and read about their perspectives.
Mine was Mrs. Myrra Lee, of Helix High School in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego.
Through an odd, but emotional set of circumstances, I discovered Mrs. Lee was celebrating her 90th birthday in San Diego in July 2016, and her family posted an open invitation on Facebook to former students. Initially I declined because we had no desire for travel plans in June or July due to my husband’s summer work demands.
I contacted her family via e-mail and gave them my regrets. They asked if we would like to contribute to an album and I submitted this post, Teacher of the Year, thinking that was that. In this post I wrote these words:
Now that I am an educator, I wish she knew how much her teaching influenced my life, personally and professionally.
I never believed that I would ever get the chance to tell her face to face after 38 years.
In late June that year, my brother called to tell me that my mother, who lives in a nursing home in San Diego, had taken a sudden turn for the worst. Her doctor recommended the family should see her ASAP in case she was to pass. Abruptly, my daughter, my husband, and I made emergency plans to travel to San Diego to be with my mom.
As I looked at the dates to fly both my daughter and husband back home for work, I saw that the birthday party for Mrs. Lee was just the following Saturday. I e-mailed the family and asked if there were still spots open for the luncheon, and remarkably, there were several spots left.
The travel plans were for us to all drive the nine-hours together, then I would stay on and attend the party, and drive back home.
As much as I looked forward to this, I also dreaded the idea of my mother possibly passing away while we were there. The emotional rollercoaster that followed was overwhelming as I began grieving the loss of my mother.
From Friday, when we got the phone call, to Sunday night when we finally visited my mom, we weren’t sure how mom would look, but she looked amazingly well. Her doctor had painted a bleak picture of her prognosis. Since it was evening, she was already in bed. She battles a series of medical conditions including dementia, so she was confused as to place and time but recognized us all. Each day we visited her, she got better and the massive infection miraculously cleared up on its own. To this day she is still doing well, much to her doctor’s amazement.
I told my mom I was going to Mrs. Lee’s 90th birthday party. My mom had been with me in 1977 when we attended the high school reception honoring Mrs. Lee’s National Teacher of the Year award. She had returned from the trip to Washington D.C to accept the award from President Jimmy Carter.
Words that are dear to my heart now a year later were when my mother said, “Oh, she’s 90? Tell her I said hello and congratulations.” As if my mom had one foot in 2016 and one foot in 1977.
The day of Mrs. Lee’s luncheon brought me so much joy! Just the mere fact that I would actually see her after 38 years was hard to imagine. I was told by the family that she had suffered a mild stroke a few months before. When I entered the restaurant, I walked up to where she sat and introduced myself. She noticed my name tag and smiled. I asked if she remembered me and she replied very softly that she did. Elated and honored, I got a photo taken with her, then went to sit down.
I sat at a table with several classmates which was an unexpected delight. The best thing about the luncheon was the opportunity for us to stand up and share our perspectives and experiences we had with her as our teacher. They also passed around the two photo albums and I was enormously pleased to see my blog post plastered across two full pages.
Nervously I stood and thanked her for being such an inspiration to me. I’m sure I stumbled over a few more words, eloquent and otherwise, but more specifically, these: “I ended up becoming an educator, too, Mrs. Lee, and this is the joy of my life.”
She smiled and applauded, along with the rest of the room. I sat down with tears shining in my eyes.
In reading through the albums, it was clear that she had not let age slow her down, but continued to make news headlines.
In 2011, Mrs. Myrra Lee was also lauded for her role as a staunch advocate against human trafficking, long after retiring from teaching. This article, “Waking People to Injustice” written by Los Angeles Times Columnist Sandy Banks, leads with this headline:
“Myrra Lee, 85, is working to show sex trade’s hidden victims.”
As I listened to more of my high school classmates share their stories of her, I watched her and still saw that razor-sharp glint in her eye, as her educator mind drank in the memories and praise. Even her recent stroke at age 90 has not stopped those gears from turning.
Sadly, I had to leave the luncheon before it concluded to travel back home. I collected the dogs and my luggage and drove the nine-hour drive home reflecting on how two remarkable women affected my life as a teenager and still feel their continued influence into my midlife years.
My mother, through her daily example, taught me the value of leisure and fitness.
My high school teacher taught me the value of education and challenged students to reach for the stars and to not take no for an answer.
Was it a beloved teacher who inspired you? How so?
For all you bloggers out there who love stats and analytics, googling “Myrra Lee Educator” ranked my original post fifth on the home page! Your stories do make a difference!
Divorce is never good. I put something into place 20 years ago this month…my separation and subsequent divorce. It has taken 20 years to pay this penance.
I got married for the first time at the ripe old age of 20. My husband was 23. Not only were we kids, we were still attending college. Luckily I was smart enough to finish my undergrad degree three years later without missing a beat, get employed, and have my first child, all before the age of 25.
Without going into the details of why I chose to initiate the divorce after 15 years of marriage, let’s just say that it was necessary for my self-esteem, my children and my finances.
In California, retirement and pension programs are considered community property. This means that in a divorce settlement, spouses are entitled to each other’s pensions and other assets. I worked for a public agency that paid into CalPERS, our retirement system, beginning in 1986. Once our divorce was finalized, my ex was entitled to $11,000 of my retirement account.
I did not know that would happen. Not that anything would have changed.
At the time, I was pretty naïve about these subjects. I was told in 1995 that CalPERS did not pay off the spouse, but put money into a retirement account, but even that information was sketchy. Now that I was a single parent at age 35 with a busy job, and raising two young girls with no help, the last thing on my mind was how my future retirement was affected.
At the time of our divorce, we were attending a church and had been active members for several years. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to divorce as a Christian? Christians do not divorce. And those that do, well let’s just say…it’s awkward. We are supposed to be above the earthly issues and if there is trouble, seek counseling through the church (which we did). The pastor was chagrined that someone in his flock would dare divorce. Suddenly he wanted to get in our business when he had never given us the time of day before.
Needless to say, once my husband left (I kept the house, the car, the bills, etc), I stopped attending that church. I had several friends who were supportive and some had left that church for similar reasons. In a year I started attending a new church.
Ironically, that pastor’s adult son went through a divorce soon after.
Despite my belief in God I felt tremendous guilt for putting the divorce in motion. My husbands’ family disowned me, and only communicated with me when they wanted to visit my daughters.
I continued to pay the penance of guilt, but I was determined to not relent. My ex promised to do better but I was not interested in going back to him. I did not particularly care if his family ever spoke to me again.
For the two years we were separated, I got no monetary help from my ex. He had trouble keeping jobs. If I had asked for child support, I would have had to PAY him alimony since I made much more money than him.
He eventually met a woman he decided to marry two years later, but we had not filed for the divorce. We amicably filed, each paying a small sum to the paralegal who handled the filing.
Once the divorce was final, and he remarried, I filed for child support. I got the huge sum of $200 per month.
Unfortunately for me, his fiancé was greedy and had been through a nasty divorce a few years prior. She also worked for a public agency and knew something about CalPERS. She coerced him into taking his share of the retirement. Even though he was entitled, he originally had no plans to do so. So $11 grand was taken out of my account and paid to him in a check.
It was rumored they used the money to fund their wedding in Kauai in 1998. Nice, huh? Tragically, she passed away in 2005 due to breast cancer. Upon her death, her family promptly forgot about her widowed husband.
In 2003, I discovered that CalPERS had a community property re-deposit program. After some paperwork, I could pay my retirement fund back at $130 per month on a 15-year payment plan. I wish I had known sooner.
When I retired in 2014, I still had more payments to make to CalPERS, I quickly discovered I had two options: continue to pay the $130 out of my pocket on my pension income, or use my vacation leave balance to pay the difference. The monetary value of my sizable amount of vacation time transferred to my 401K account. A portion was transferred to PERS tax free to pay off that re-deposit.
I hand-delivered the check to the CalPERS office in early May and paid my final penance, 20 years later to the month.
Exactly one month ago, I retired from public service in recreation and parks, after 31 years. I shared several blog posts about my retirement experience, including a guest post on A Momma’s View.
I thought this might be a good way to wind up my retirement series with a post from the daily prompt Enough Is Enough.
Yes, the fight is over.
In my guest post I stated,
“Does this bother me? Sure, a little. The stress of change has been taking its toll on me these last two years. It is exhausting to explain to someone 20 years your junior how certain things are done and why. I know without a doubt why older people retire and give up. It’s just too hard.”
After sitting through drastic changes to our recreation department as a result of the great recession, and enduring the miserable decisions our City leaders made, I had to throw in the towel.
After watching countless colleagues get laid off while management still kept their jobs, and saying good-bye to another group of retirees, I had to call it a day.
After my staff and I worked our arses off to “make it work,” I gleefully filled out my retirement application.
After navigating even more changes with the influx of new management coming and going, making crappy, program-killing decisions, the exit door could not have hit me on the way out any quicker!
Enough is indeed, enough.
Now that the fight is over and my stress levels are very low (I’m sure my cholesterol numbers have improved), I do have to get organized.
The image above is of a card I received when I retired. It seems to imply that retirement is a lot of napping and doing nothing. While that may be great for some people, resting and napping is not my idea of retirement. On the other hand, I do have to admit to hitting that snooze button too many times and putting my feet up…a lot!
But the idea of making my own agenda—now that is the tricky one! A task that I am implementing today.
I have a new calendar. After years of using on online Outlook calendar for everything, I have a beautiful, 2015 spiral-bound planner highlighting Thomas Mangelsen’s wildlife photographs. Here I keep my blog post schedule and ideas, my workout schedule, and any appointments I have (I had three appointments last week!). With this low-tech tool, I also schedule my daily routine for my consulting business, and preparations for my future university courses and lectures.
I love technology. I loved having an online calendar. When I worked full-time I was ridiculously busy; a calendar tied to my outlook account for work and personal time was a necessity. A simple click on my I-phone, and there was my life, laid out week-by-week. That was back in the day when I carried two mobile phones; my own and my work phone.
I had tried to use planners before, but they ended up in the office supply graveyard. In order to effectively use a real planner, I had to retire. Enough is enough.
Now, back to putting up my feet and basking in the glory of a new beginning.
It is 1:00 pm on Tuesday, December 16th. I have 4 working days left.
I have packed up a few more things from my office. I have deleted REALLY OLD files and saved others on a shared drive. I have taken all my personal items down from the walls. It really feels like someone has passed away and I am cleaning out their belongings.
But it’s me that is moving on and that’s why I feel a little empty. I guess there is a grieving process to go through in retiring from one’s job after 30+ years. I smile as I write this; however, thinking how the freedom I will experience will be a major paradigm shift for me.
I also conducted my final class lectures last week. After inviting the December graduates to stand up and be recognized, I told them about my impending retirement. My students reacted so wonderfully in both of my classes, with hugs and handshakes.
These are the photos of my almost empty office and my empty classroom. I shall embrace the changes and the empty spaces.