Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Judy: Building a Happy Retirement

In November, I ventured down to Huntingdon, PA, to a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) called Westminster Woods at Huntingdon.  I was invited to give a seminar on how to have a happy retirement to people who live there and those who might be interested in moving to the community.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity for us to organize our thinking on this topic, especially since Steve has been partially retired since July.  We've had a number of conversations about it, which is an important part of the process all by itself.  Of course, since I retired in 2011, I get to be the expert.  Here's what we came up with:

The gift of retirement is being able to choose what, when, where, and how you want to do things.  For the first time in your life since, perhaps, summer vacations when you were a child, you don't have to get up at a particular time or really answer to anyone else.  You actually get to choose whether or not you want to do something.  I know that for me, that was a huge freedom, but I did continue to do things on a schedule very similar to my work schedule at first (old habits die hard).  Gradually I was able to ease into a different frame of mind.  Each day I would wake up and think about what I would like to accomplish that day.  Then I'd ask myself, do I feel like doing it today?  For most of my adult life I have had far more to do than could be accomplished in a day, so I became very efficient in organizing my time.  Those who know me agree that I was able to do far more than most, which I accomplished by never giving myself a choice about whether or not to do something...it was always "do it now and move on to the next thing."  So this freedom to choose is HUGE for me.

One of the things that I have written about previously came up during this talk.  I remember my clients telling me of the things they regretted at the end of life, and they generally fell into the categories of wishing they had spent more time with their children when they were young, making more time for fun with their spouses, and taking more risks when they were young enough to recover if things didn't go well.  That includes travel, which is something Steve and I both enjoy, and as you've read, we've been on the go together since our youngest child went off to college.

The talk was well-received, and in fact, I will be giving a similar talk next summer at another CCRC. And I started thinking about how the things I spoke about relate to Steve and I.  We had been thinking of another trip to Asia, specifically to Thailand so I could take cooking classes and we could visit the Alzheimer resort communities in Chiang Mai, but we decided to postpone that trip for a while.  So we didn't really have an adventure in front of us.  Coincidentally, my sister had just returned from her first trip to Paris with Road Scholars (formerly known as elder hostel), and she had a great experience there...right up until the terrorist attack literally down the street from her hotel.  But the guides were wonderfully knowledgeable, and the tour leader was a retired army officer, so in the end it was a true adventure.  So we started thinking of somewhere warm to go when winter finally arrives (usually January around here), and our thoughts went to Cuba, where one of our friends had gone with Road Scholars a few years back.  We talked to her, and it seemed that it was still too restrictive there, and the country just starting to recover from years of being closed to Americans.

There's another ingredient to the decision we finally made.  I had to have surgery for a fractured patella (kneecap) in 2004, secondary to a spectacular collision with one of our greyhounds on a tile floor.  It has made me hesitant about trips where my balance might be an issue.  For the past five years I've been saying, "oh well, I guess we'll never get to the Galapagos or Machu Picchu."  But there has been an advertisement airing, showing a clearly elderly gentleman who has decided to climb to the top of Angor Wat, and he's literally crawling up the steps.  (When we went there, I waited at the bottom while Steve and a friend climbed up.)  But seeing that commercial, and having just encouraged a room full of people to take some risks, I decided that since we aren't going to get any younger, now is the time to go to Machu Picchu.  When I looked at the photographs of the ruins, I realized that it is far more negotiable than Angor Wat, since you are generally walking up steps that run next to a wall.  

So I went to the Road Scholars website, and found a 10 day trip to Peru that fit into our schedule, and with a feeling of abandon, we booked it that night.  When we started doing our research, we became engrossed in learning the history of the country we would be seeing, and even started making very sad little efforts at learning Spanish.  (Unfortunately, neither of us are naturals at languages, so we've only gotten as far as Buenos dias and gracias.)  And we went to our physician for advice on preventative medications and inoculations, which resulted in a vaccination against Yellow fever, Typhoid pills (because they last 5 years vs. 2 years for the shot), anti-malaria pills, and altitude medication.  And I purchased some trekking poles.  We're comfortable with the physical challenges of the trip, but not risking lasting health consequences.

The more we've learned about Peru, the more exciting the trip seems to us.  We're curious about the customs, the food, and the history.  And we've made additional trip plans throughout the year ahead and into 2017.  The driving force is that we are now right around 70 and we can anticipate about five more years of being able to do challenging travel.  Which is what I told my audience.  If we are healthy, we can anticipate maybe another five to ten years when we can still travel, but may choose to do somewhat less challenging things.

We leave for Peru next week...so watch for tales and photos from our adventure!


  1. When Steve retired in August, a dear friend gave him a "treasure chest"(it was cardboard), filled with travel guides and maps. In fact, we're using the "Insight Guides South America" for our trip. The two titles I would be sure are in there are:
    "1000 Places to See Before you Die,"by Patricia Schultz, and "Second Acts: Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Really Want," by Stephen Pollan.