The other kind of retirement dreams

I was in the Army back in the 70s and to this day, I sometimes have a dream where I’m back in, but I don’t have the right uniform. I’m trying to get to the clothing sales store before somebody catches me, but I don’t know where it is. I’m walking around, knowing I’m about to be caught and in big trouble. Mercifully, I wake up.

Sounds kind of like college dreams, right? It’s the big test, but you forgot to study. Or you didn’t graduate after all. I suspect everyone has a version of these dreams, which I assume are related to stress and/or anxiety.

My dreams are vivid, and I remember most of them. When I tell my husband about them, the first question he asks is if I crossed state lines. The answer is usually yes, many times.

So, I’ve had a few retirement dreams. Last night I dreamed my boss asked me at the last minute to sit in for her at the big Monday staff meeting. Sadly, I had worn slippers to work. I had time to go home and get appropriate shoes, but I was also invited to participate in a ceremony, where I would be honored for something that was not revealed in the dream.

But I wanted to go, so I skipped the shoe exchange and planned to attend the ceremony – in my slippers. I forgot to tell the administrative assistant who runs the meetings that I wouldn’t be there. I couldn’t find the ceremony, and the staff meeting was already over by the time I gave up. I called the admin and apologized for being a no-show.

She starts telling me how much trouble I’m in, the big guy is really mad, but in my dream, I’m thinking, wait! I’m retired! This isn’t really happening. Wake up! They can’t do anything to me. And then mercifully, I wake up.

So, wow. I suspect for many of us, it will take years to completely unwind from the pressures of the workplace. As I think about it, the dreams are similar to a few unpleasant dreams I had when I was working. Doing something stupid and then coping with the fear of getting in trouble.

Um, wait, I think that actually happened … the stupid and the trouble. However, I’ve been pretty lucky none of my mistakes were deal breakers. Although one time in the Army it came close. I had a pattern of saying whatever was on my mind. I asked the lieutenant why I never got any of the cushy assignments, and he said, Pekar, it’s got something to do with what’s between your nose and your chin.

I did learn to control my stream of consciousness ramblings, and that served me well in corporate life. I’m grateful I made it to the finish line and even more grateful I can now wake up and say, wait! This isn’t real. I’m retired.

Bacon of the Month Club

During the first couple of months after I retired, my husband and I were driving each other nuts, what with me wanting him to eat healthier and live longer and then his raging indifference to my loving intentions. So, I thought, fine, you want to die, let’s get this show on the road, and I gave him “Bacon of the Month Club” for Christmas.

He would receive a monthly shipment of bacon for three months courtesy of Zingerman’s. I would have done the whole year, but that seemed too obvious.

I like bacon, but most of the time, I’m like, no thanks, I’ve already had cancer. Until delicious specialty pork products started arriving at the door, I wasn’t even tempted. But now there was pressure.

The first shipment was a pound of Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon from Wisconsin. The package included a keepsake binder with articles about bacon and the people who make it, “A Pocket Book of Bacon” and a pig magnet for the refrigerator.

Nueske’s was by far the best of the three we sampled. The article in the binder described it as the Platonic ideal of bacon, the one against which all other bacons are measured. And it’s true. I’m not good at describing the positive qualities of bacon after so many years of pig-shaming, other than to say Dale cooked it to perfection, and it was crispy, smoky and succulent.

At first I would only eat one piece, and I said we can never have this more than once a week. Then I said, oh, two pieces won’t kill me, but never, never more than once a week. And then I said, oh, what difference does it make if we eat it twice a week? We’re all going to die anyway.

In hindsight, I can see bacon helped us bond through a challenging transition in our lives. Whatever was going on – me in bed at night, worrying about what happens if the North Koreans bomb us and ruin my retirement and him worrying about me being awake worrying about North Korea.

But then it’s morning, the sun is glorious, the birds are chirping and wait, what is that other sound? Could it be the siren call of bacon?

One morning I took a picture of two simple slices of bacon on a plate and posted it on my Instagram account. I don’t get tons of Instagram traffic, but bacon is my most popular post to date. I look at the number every couple of weeks, and I report to Dale that bacon, of all my posts, is still in the lead. He laughs every time. The picture of me bald after chemotherapy is a heart-tugging second, but it’s not bacon.

We’re adjusting to our new lifestyle. I gave up pestering him about what he eats. Besides, he kind of came around on his own. Our membership in Bacon of the Month Club had expired, and one day he said, you know, that was fun, but we shouldn’t eat so much bacon.

I let him think it was his idea – a trick I learned at work.

Casual clothes for retirement

When I was working full-time, I put effort into assembling a stylish wardrobe that was appropriate for my workplace but also felt true to who I am. No stilettos for me, thank you. Perhaps my greatest professional accomplishment was putting together an outfit that included a pencil skirt and rubber-soled shoes. Oh yes, I did it. My ugly shoe game is strong.

But that time is gone. I might need a professional-looking outfit or something suitable for a city engagement once in a great while, but mostly I need clothes I can goof off in! Now that I’m retired, my days are mostly about being at home, reading, writing, cooking, grocery shopping, playing golf and walking or hiking. An occasional dinner out. I’ve put zero effort into style. My look is often what we used to call, “Joe Shit the Rag Man.”

The fashion blogs are filled with cool, stylish outfits, but I don’t need those kinds of outfits. I need play clothes! And that is why I went to REI this week. Plus, I had a gift card from my retirement party, so it was like free stuff. I bought two pairs of shorts and a top, and that pretty much burned up the card. I see future shopping trips to T.J. Maxx and other discount stores. Still, my new free shorts by prAna are modern with great fabric and great fit with a zippered pocket! I also love the longer length. I’m smitten.

I thought I was over wanting to look fashionable, but I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t want my retirement diary to be, “My Life as a Slob.” Retirement is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It’s obvious I will need proper clothes for the journey. I have ugly shoes, so that’s a head start.



Five strengths retirement will test

Today I share a warning from the ghost of retirement future. I built a solid portfolio of skills and talents in my 38-year career, and when I retired from full-time work, the things I was good at were the first to go. Everyone talks about outliving your money, but maybe the real risk of retirement is having our hard-won strengths put to the test.

  1. Time Management – The morning flies by fast when you sleep late. Breakfast, news, email … and the next thing you know, it’s time for lunch! Last week I had a 10 a.m. appointment just a few minutes from my house, and I wasn’t sure I had enough bandwidth to execute in a timely fashion. And yet another worry bead – at this pace, I may not have enough jammies to get me through the next few years.
  2. Leadership – I have no authority and a team of one who does not believe he reports to me. I have a clear vision, which I’ve shared with him during happy hour (think of it as an all-hands). But I get the sense he is not engaged. His discretional effort is focused on BattleBots.
  3. Project Management – We work on a new project every day, and it is called dinner. The results are spectacular, world-class, but there is occasionally a problem with cost, schedule or expectations … mostly expectations. Somehow during the kickoff meeting, he forgets to tell me he’s putting Trinidad Scorpion Peppers in the beans, and I don’t know, he just doesn’t seem to understand the business case for chia seeds.
  4. Communication – As a leader, I used to command attention, but now I wonder if I speak and no one hears me, do I still make a sound? I practice my outside voice on the pool guy. “Wow, a lot of leaves today, huh?”
  5. Conflict Resolution – When colleagues with different objectives and needs clash in the workplace, a good leader uses respectful dialogue to separate the people from the problem and help the team stay focused on shared business goals. This doesn’t always work at home, where there is no best practice to resolve snits, irks, miffs, fumes, gripes, pouts, stews, nags and peeves.

Of course, the agile retiree with a learning orientation will adapt. I now realize my strengths are also development areas. I’m committed to continuous improvement. In the near-term, I will get dressed and do something about the jammie shortage.

Eat your beans

I’m here to sing the praises of eating more beans and legumes. I can’t think of a single food that has had more impact on my life – and not always in a good way.

As a child, I hated beans. I remember going to my friend Becky’s house for a sleepover, and for dinner, her mother made some sort of dish with macaroni and kidney beans. I vividly recall puking it up in Becky’s bedroom a couple of hours later. I was not invited back.

My taste buds evolved as I got older, but I still didn’t eat beans or other legumes because I had what we used to call a sensitive stomach. I had trouble digesting beans and vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, which I nicknamed, “Death Vegetable.” I would have horrible gas pain and bloating, and to me, it wasn’t worth it.

In the category of strange but true, my digestive issues resolved after my cancer surgery in 1999. The operation included removing my omentum, which is a curtain of fatty tissue that hangs down from the stomach and liver and wraps around the intestines. The omentum is thought to aid in digestion, but maybe because mine was diseased it had the opposite effect? Or maybe whilst tooling around in my gut, the surgeon unkinked something that now allowed me to enjoy beans and cruciferous vegetables?

I don’t know what happened, but after the surgery at age 43, I began to slowly introduce these foods into my diet. And then later in my 50s, I read about people in the Blue Zones of the world who live long, healthy lives. Most of them eat a lot of beans. Additionally, eating a daily serving of cooked beans is linked with lower levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. I upped my game.

My husband always loved beans and legumes, so it made dinner easier. We discovered a mutual tolerance for unpleasant odors, since it did take time for my body to adjust as I increased fiber in my diet. No horrible bloating gas like I had when I was young – just painless flatulence, which Dale says is the sign of a healthy metabolism. But this comes from a guy who would sign his farts if he could.

We all know something will get us eventually, but since improving my diet by reducing sugar, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating oatmeal for breakfast several days a week and consuming beans or legumes daily, all the numbers in my lipid profile markedly improved, and my bad cholesterol dropped by 17 percent. After a lifetime fooling around with irritable bowel syndrome, I have no issues with either constipation or diarrhea.

Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and all kinds of lentils are now pantry staples. Hearty bean soups make an especially good lunch – I cook big batches to freeze in individual servings. If you’re working, you can defrost at home and put it in a wide-mouth mason jar to reheat in the microwave at the office. I kept a little squirt bottle of good olive oil in my credenza as a topper!

Cookbooks and websites are loaded with recipes that use legumes, but here are three new favorites:

In my opinion, all beans and legumes taste better if you make them from scratch. Once you get used to cooking dry beans, you will never want to use canned again. The Instant Pot®, which is an electric pressure cooker, makes it fast and easy – we would starve without ours.

I pretty much love all food, but if I had to, I would give up meat before I’d give up beans. Just don’t make me think about giving up cheese.

Experiments with cannabis gummies

I continue to use homemade CBD-dominant cannabis tincture to ease anxiety and reduce inflammation associated with post-mastectomy pain. All is well, but I wanted to share a couple of updates from the field!

First, always be cautious with your dosage. Cannabis is medicine not candy, and our goal here is to feel better without feeling stoned. Second, back away from the gummi bears.

My preferred delivery system is a little juice shooter in the morning with a bit of cannabis tincture. I’ve been adding a dropperful to my shooter. When I finally finished my first bottle of homemade cannabis tincture, I opened a new bottle and squeezed out a dropperful.

Whoa! There’s a reason I’m not a professional cannabis chef. My quality control apparently sucks. A dropperful of the new bottle from the same batch of tincture gave me what is lovingly called, “Couch Lock.” Except I was at my desk, so it was more “Chair Lock.”

Under the effects of too much cannabis, I sat there for a couple of hours mindlessly staring at my computer. So, yes, you might think of it as just another day in the office. But I’m retired, and I have more important things to do.

Such as making cannabis gummi bears! My tincture was a success, so I got to thinking how much fun it would be to try some other sort of cannabis recipe. I was immediately attracted to the idea of making cannabis gummies. I found a recipe using tincture, I ordered the molds, bought gelatin and sour cherry juice, because I thought that sounded like a good flavor.

Gummi bears were easy to make, but at the end of the day, you are stuck with boatloads of cannabis gummi bears. Oh, and I ran out of space in the bear molds, so I used silicone cupcake molds instead. That resulted it big globs of gelatin with cannabis in them. They look sort of like peanut butter cups.

They taste OK, but again, dosage is a problem. Those bears are so tiny! And the faux peanut butter cups are huge! And for some of us, who shall remain nameless, it’s difficult to remember they aren’t candy. For me, it’s safer to rely on the precision of a medical dropper. It even looks like medicine.

In hindsight, I would say, what’s the point? I don’t eat regular gummi bears, so the medicated variety don’t fit into my routine. And it occurred to me later I don’t actually like gummi bears. The only way I would want a product like this is if I were very sick and this was the only way I could take my medication.

Even then, I would advise all to proceed with caution. Overdoing it can lead to wasted hours in front of the computer, and that sounds too much like work.

A new opportunity to annoy your partner

Consider me the canary in the coal mine, dutifully sharing dispatches from the dark recesses of retirement so you can learn from my best practices and perhaps a mistake or two.

As for mistakes, it appears I’ve been annoying my husband.

A friend suggested it might happen with all this new-found togetherness. I said don’t be silly, we won’t be spending that much time together, because I will be playing golf. However, moving to a new home, performing my duties as House Elf, writing and a lack of cooperation on the weather’s part means I have not played as much golf as I had planned.

Instead, we’ve been holed up in the house passing notes to each other through the cat. The fundamental problem is he needs to be more like me, and I need to be more like him.

I’m a driver – sometimes known as a Type A. I like to keep things organized, and I like to get things done. Dale, on the other hand, is a wee bit sloppy and pleasantly laid back. I have, in a moment of weakness, called him lazy. He said lazy is such a harsh word. He likes to think of himself as differently motivated.

Normally we balance each other out, but it seems I’ve been using my bonus retirement hours to try and make him more like me. Well, why not? With my astute powers of observation, I’ve identified key shortcomings, and who doesn’t love a good list?

It was a healthy discussion.

  • He admitted to being lazy. I admitted to being possessed controlling.
  • I agreed not to criticize his driving. He agreed to park inside the lines.
  • He said he’d try and get more done. I said I was aroused by a guy with a few chores under his belt.
  • I conceded Vietnamese and Thai fish sauce are both tasty, but whoever is cooking gets to pick.
  • He is not required to eat oatmeal if he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies.

We renewed our vow that we can’t afford to NOT love each other. In a deeply romantic moment, I believe I said, “Dance with the one who brung ya.”

Love morphs over 40 years, but it does not fly out the door in a matter of months. Retirement changes the dynamics, and we’ve learned it’s important to keep the lines of communication open now more than ever. We each owned up to our part in this drama, and I believe our ability to duke it out rationally is one reason we’ve lasted this long. That, and being soul mates.

If I had to do it over, I might suggest one retire in the spring, so one could have a long, warm period of adjustment. As for your trusty reporter, the weather is improving, and I have every confidence it will improve fast enough to get me out of the house before you find me strapped to a lie detector screaming, “Yes! It’s true! Almond milk is not real milk!”

Work? Not missing it.

You know the scene from Office Space, where Peter pretty much stops going to the office? The consultant – one of the Bobs – calls him in and says, “Looks like you’ve been missing quite a bit of work lately.”

Peter replies, “Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been MISSING it, Bob.”

Exactly. I’ve been retired five full months, and I love it. I read about baby boomers who are all, oh, work, work, I can’t quit you. I was one of them earlier in my career, but now it’s hard to imagine what the attraction was other than money.

Of course, I did work I’m proud of, and I met smart, wonderful friends I still care about, but I also encountered seriously damaged people who poisoned the workplace and made everyone miserable. Regrettably, the crazies seem to do just fine.

It’s hard to be happy in a workplace where sociopaths are protected and rewarded. The damage done stays with you a long time. I’m not picking on any particular company – I had lots of jobs in my career – and I saw it over and over again.

So, work? I wouldn’t say missing it. At the same time, I’m grateful. My career funded a good life, and I gained more than I lost. I just wanted to do something else with the rest of my time on the planet.

I had the good sense and good fortune to plan and save enough money to fund my freedom. If I’d been smarter, I could have done it even sooner, but the outcome is sweet nonetheless. And I’m still working! Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I don’t miss a traditional job.

These days, I’m doing a bit of freelancing for a firm in my field. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I chose steady income instead. Now I’m writing just to write, without pressure to make a living at it. Learning a lot, still doing work I’m proud of and still connected to wonderful friends I care about.

And I don’t have to get up early. Never underestimate the power of a woman without an alarm clock.