Saturday, January 14, 2012

Retirement: Looking Back After Year One

One year ago today Larry officially retired from his job.   It wasn't what he wanted or planned to do.   He had thought he would probably continue to work until he was sixty-five.    But life can hand us surprises and unexpected turns in the road so ---like it or not---he jumped through all the hoops and on Jan. 14, 2011 worked his last shift.    His manager came over from New Orleans and, along with several people at the station, held a nice retirement breakfast for him and bid him fare well.    He didn't want a lot of hoopla and razzing about it and they honored his wishes and kept it fairly short and heart felt.    And thus ended his years as a working  man.  

Larry with Mike and Dave
Jan. 14, 2011
It has been a strange year in some ways since he had worked in one job or another since he was sixteen years old.    He began working when his father became seriously ill, unable to work and his help was needed to assist his mother in keeping their family fed and housed.   As a teen-ager, about all he could do was go to work at a fast food joint and he turned over just about every penny he made to his mother because his family needed it and he was glad he could help out.   She gave him money for gas and some spending money but the rest was used for necessities for the family.    It was a big sacrifice for him when other kids his age were going to ball games, participating in school activities and thinking about having fun. 

When you begin working as a kid and continue working for 40 some-odd years after that it's hard to imagine not getting up and going to a job anymore.    You feel kind of lost for a while and have a nagging feeling that you're supposed to be somewhere.    It is a weird feeling to not be responsible for working at a job anymore.    And so it was with Larry.  To be honest, he actually enjoyed the part about not having to get up at a god-awful hour to go to work.    He had worked a terrible shift for many years, getting up at midnight or sometimes one in the morning to go to his job.   He would work until 9:30 and be home by 10 o'clock most days.    Not doing that any more was a relief because he never got enough rest and was chronically sleep deprived.   But not having a routine or schedule was a struggle.    It didn't take long for him to figure out he needed to do something regularly to keep busy and not go buggy.   

He ended up volunteering at our local food bank on Mondays.    He rarely misses a day and occasionally fills in on another day when they need him.     He fills bags with groceries that are given out each day and then restocks the shelves with the donations that come in from local citizens, churches and even stores like Wal-Mart and Publix.    One thing he has learned is that there are many people in our community who need help with food.  They are not deadbeats like a lot of people assume.   Many are old, some are sick and lots of them are just down on their luck, have lost their job or can't find one.    I think he finds it to be a privilege to help out with this community service to, in some way, pay back for his good fortune in life.   

One thing that took up a lot of his time right after he retired was educating himself and sorting through many major decisions regarding what he would do with various payouts and pension benefits that were distributed to him in the months following his retirement.     He knew some things could wait until later but there were a few things that needed to be decided rather quickly.    So he spent many hours reading various sources about what he should do with the money.     He consulted a financial planner and basically filled his head with as much information as he could, hoping to make smart, sound decisions that would not end up hurting us in the long run.   

Now we are not rich people or even a little bit "well off", but Larry has had good benefits over the past twenty-two years so there was a 401 K account that had to be dealt with, some company stock and some pension pay outs.    It can be really nerve racking to make decisions with what assets you have knowing that you'll probably never work again in a position that has good benefits.    So you tread carefully and hope you're making the right decision, often not knowing until many years later if the choice you made was smart or dumb.   

Against the advice of the financial planner, we decided to pay off the mortgage on our house.     We didn't owe a huge amount on it but it would have been several more years before it would be paid off if we continued to make the regular payments.    So while we had the chance we decided we wanted to be out from under that burden.     This past year would have been a whole lot more stressful had we been making mortgage payments so, in spite of the fact that the financial planner thought it was "not wise", we did it anyhow.    And we're not sorry.   (Maybe I should wait until after we file our tax return this year before I make the final judgment on that.)

We also decided to wait to begin drawing from the 401 K until later.    Larry is required to begin using it at age 70 but so far we have survived just fine without it and will continue to hold off as long as we are able to meet our obligations and have a few of life's finer joys with our current income.  The 401 K fund had to be turned over to a different manager and Larry has watched anxiously this past year as it has slipped backward and then crept back up, although not back to where it was when he retired.    It has been a difficult thing to not have complete control of that money but tinkering with things like that when you really don't know what you're doing can be a dangerous thing.     So he has learned to not obsess over every twist and turn of the stock market, but he still occasionally will have a pang of regret or worry.    Then he comes to his senses and realizes that he just has to step back and stay calm.   No one said that being retired would be easy or worry-free.  

One of the greatest joys of this past year has been the wonderful trips we made.    In April last year we took our middle grandson, Benjamin, to Washington, DC.    We drove to Cary, NC and with my niece, Rebecca, her husband, Rich, and their granddaughter, Shannon, caught the Amtrak to Washington.    Ben is a certified train nut.   He admits that.    So he was in heaven and we had a nice ride through Virginia and Maryland where no one had to drive, stress out over traffic or worry about the next rest stop.    We spent several days in Washington seeing monuments, museums and lots and lots of tourists like us.    We all had a grand time and one of the best things was having plenty of time to spend with Ben.    Everyone should consider doing that if you have more than one grandchild because you can really keep your focus on that child and not feel hurried or interrupted.  

Ice Cream and Fun
Grammy, Gramps and Ben
April 2011
Then in late June we embarked on a trip of lifetime to see the wildness of Alaska.    We were with Rich and Rebecca again and they had planned a wonderful excursion that began in Vancouver and then we took a flight to Anchorage and a train ride that took us to Denali and Fairbanks.    We flew back to Anchorage, rode a huge motor coach down to Seward where we boarded the Ms. Zaandam for a cruise that took us back to Vancouver.    It would probably take several blog entries to cover what we saw and did on that trip, but suffice it to say, we had a royal good time.    We ate marvelous meals, saw glaciers and tundra,  flew in a tiny plane over the Misty Fjords,  played Phase 10 in our stateroom and laughed our way across our 49th state.  

Larry enjoying our first moments aboard
the Ms Zaandam, July 2011

Marcia  on Ms. Zaandam, July 2011

Finally, in September, as if one cruise was not enough for one year, we took a much anticipated trip with Brian, April and the three grand kids down to Mexico.     April had been planning the trip for most of the year and had pretty much figured our every move.    Things went like clockwork thanks to April's advance work and, again, we had a great time eating, laughing and playing our way across the Gulf of Mexico and back.   We saw the crystal blue waters near Cozumel, a blazing sun set along Mobile Bay, a ship full of people partying like it was 1999 and happy, energetic entertainers  and stewards only so happy to make us smile and cater to our every whim.  It was a wonderful trip and we were glad we got to go!

Elegant Night on the Elation Sept. 2011

So this past year has been full of activities, decisions and fun.   But to be honest, it has not all been fun and games.    There is a learning curve to being retired.    There are books and online articles that tell you about retiring.    What you should expect.    How to plan.    What to do.   What NOT to do.  On and on they go.    The truth is that retirement really is what you make of it and you just have to get in there and live it.    Every day you are given choices, options.      When you are in charge of your own time and your own life without the directorship of a major corporation or a boss telling you how your day will go, it can be a daunting task.   And yes, it can be intimidating, too.     I guess it's possible to have too many choices and too much freedom.   

The thing is you just have to figure out who you are-- now that you're not a "working person" any more.    It certainly doesn't mean you won't ever work again.    Lots of retirees end up back among the employed.   Sometimes it's because they have to for financial reasons.    Other times it is because they need to be busy and going back to work is the easiest and surest way to make sure they stay on task.    Remember, when your time is your own, it's easy to give yourself the day off.    That's great if you really want to have a day off.    Not so good when it starts to drive you crazy.   

So this past year has been a learning experience for Larry and for me, too.    I stopped working at a paid job in August before Larry did last January.   I got a head start on this "retired" thing.     We have had hard decisions to make, time to relax and just "be" and more fun than we probably deserve in such a short period.    Larry has fretted from time to time about decisions he had to make and I was the one reassuring him that it would be all right.   That has been our pattern for forty-three years so I guess we won't be changing that at this late date.    It has been a fast year and sometimes I wonder where the days went.    Then I look on the calendar and see trips and camping excursions (I didn't even tell about camping in this post!),  volunteer duties and I know where the days went.    It wasn't as bad as Larry worried it would be and wasn't as glorious and care free as I thought it would be.   But all in all, it was a good year for both of us.    We've learned a lot and are looking forward to other adventures in 2012.     We'll be blogging and keeping track of it all and hope to hear comments from anyone who takes the time to read about it.  And yes, Larry is going to be the one who writes the blog entry soon. He has plenty of time for that these days.

Happy Trails,



  1. Hey there, I was up about the same time as you this morning. I did not see your blog until later. I enjoyed reading it and I joined the Blog and now I am not sure what to do or how to do it. Maybe you can coach me. Oh by the way let me know when you go on or plan some other trips, maybe I might consider going with you all if you would like. Take care, Love you Aunti

  2. You did a great job capturing the year, Marcia! I think you and Larry have done a wonderful job of structuring your time and having lots of fun and fellowship. I hope it just gets better and better!

  3. Thanks for the comments. Yes, it has been an amazing year and we look forward to 2012.


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