What’s Really Important

Last weekend we shared a nice afternoon with my sister and the folks enjoying their new bocce ball court and a bottle or two of Octoberfest appropriate beer. As is usually the case it was great to catch up on everything from the kids to current jobs (for those of us still working) to vacation plans. As we were sitting down for dinner we heard on the news of a fire rapidly blazing its way through hundreds of acres down Monterey way. Since we now reside in that area we were concerned, even more so when we learned the flames were a mere ten miles from our home. We continued monitoring the news worrying through the evening and headed out early the next day.

As we neared the turnoff to our home we had to skirt the lines of a second fire that lined both sides of the road and was supposedly 80 percent contained. Firemen and trucks were scattered everywhere with blackened hills filling the landscape that 24 hours earlier had been brown. Fortunately these hard working public servants fought the good fight and were on top of the situation allowing us to make it safely home. Once there we tuned into the local news for the latest on what was being called the Tassajara fire. We were a bit frustrated to find no updates to the situation since many hours ago. Although we could not see smoke we could smell it.

Beatrice and I decided we would put together a few boxes of our most important records and possessions in case we might have to make a run for it should the fire spread to our doorstep. We found a few plastic containers left over from our recent move and began wandering the house in search of those most important and irreplaceable possessions.

What were we going to include in these precious few boxes? With a limit to what we could pack into the cars, which items did we consider to be most irreplaceable, sentimental and significant? Looking back now it was an interesting exercise. At the time, not so much.

We agreed there were certain documents we needed to save – deed to the house, pink slips, receipts from the sale of the house, birth certificates, tax records for the past years, and insurance information.

Next we focused on a few valuable pieces of art we have and figured we could get them into the car relatively easily – just a few paintings and one Peter Lik photo that we bought on our honeymoon.

Even with these minimal selections we were running out of available space. What else was most important to save? When it came down to it the material side of things was surprisingly unimportant. Neither of us was concerned over electronics or furniture that although good quality could be replaced. The real loss for us would be the beautiful spot where we were planning to spend the rest of our lives. This perfect location would not be so perfect should we have to rebuild amidst blackened ruins. For me it came down to a short list: photos of the family collected over the years – there are no negatives and these could not be replaced; my laptop; and one particularly unique vase with a chameleon climbing the side that although not valuable is pretty cool.

In the end we collected everything in three plastic bins and were ready to grab the three pictures off the walls to make our dash to safety. Thankfully the fire was contained and our immediate neighborhood is no worse for the wear.

Since the threat of the fire we have scanned all of our important documents onto a hard drive and thumb drive. We have opened a safety deposit box where we store these along with some irreplaceable pictures and family heirlooms. We now keep an empty plastic container next to the safe to throw the contents into short order should the need arise. Most importantly we appreciate even more what we have and how fortunate we are to be where we are. We witnessed in those poor people who lost their homes just how fragile and uncertain the future can be. Taking life for granted is a mistake. You are only as safe as your next disaster. We feel prepared to make a hasty retreat should we have to. But in the meantime we are enjoying the moment and making the best of each day together.

Retirement Checklist Revisited

Back in 2010 when I wrote my first post for Retirement – Only the Beginning I did not realistically have much of an understanding of what it meant to be retired. I knew or at least hoped I would retire sometime down the road. As for what that retired life would look like I was pretty clueless. That ultimately became the motivation for my blog – figuring out what I could do to best prepare myself to live a fulfilling meaningful retirement. And as I have reiterated in past blogs the focus of my efforts was on those many important considerations other than financial. Although money is a key piece of the puzzle I was convinced there was much more to living happily retired than just a fat wallet. The trick was to figure exactly what those pieces were before rather than after retirement commenced.

As the years progressed I began to better comprehend the challenges as well as opportunities that awaited me. I started digging into what I thought would matter most in my second act. What would I do, what was important to me, what would challenge me and keep me engaged, and ultimately what would make me happy? I began to create a mental checklist – a work perpetually in progress. Over the years I have modified my checklist making an addition here and a deletion there.

Here are a few of what I have identified as most important considerations to foster a happy retirement. Let’s see how things are progressing as I enter year number three of retired bliss.

Take time to smell the roses

In other words learn to enjoy life. After 30 years living at a pace slightly slower than the speed of light it is not easy to take it down a notch. In the startup world the focus has always been on getting more and more done in less and less time. Rolling into retirement in this state of mind was not a good idea – at all. In the early days of retirement I felt guilty if I was not doing something “meaningful” with every free moment. I was unable to enjoy Welcome Flowerthe freedom I have since learned can be a most satisfying part of each day. But I am getting better. For example, in our new home we have a lot of roses – I’m talking about more than 80 bushes sprinkled around the property. My first instinct was to tear out the thirty-or-so in the front and replace them with saw grass, ornate lava rocks and a splash of low-maintenance color. I had a picture clearly in my mind and was planning the changes from the first day we moved in. Then I began to look more closely at the roses, to see them for the beauties they really were. Colors ran the gamut from yellow to blood red to peppermint. Wonderful aromas wafted up from each as I sniffed them in turn. Maybe it made sense to enjoy them a bit before taking any drastic action. Why not keep an eye and a nostril on them for a year or two and see if we like them as they are. What was the hurry? It sounds simple but coming from my do it now background this was monumental. This morning I cut a sample from four bushes to create a bouquet for the kitchen that reinforces my decision to take it easy, don’t be in a hurry, just smell the roses (literally). I have to say I am enjoying this healthier happier pace.

Be sure to sync up retirement plans with your spouse

As I have shared earlier my wife recently joined me in retirement. Until then she was hard at work while I endeavored to perfect the retired life we would live by getting started early. As she inched closer to her final months we began to discuss in more detail just what was ahead. There are views we hold in common and some where we differ. Nothing surprising here as that could describe any time in our relationship. But in retirement we are learning to pay closer attention. Since we are together 24/7 little annoyances might grow in significance if ignored. On the other hand by sharing openly we may discover shared interests we have ignored and now have time to explore. I think the retirement sync will be ongoing. What has helped us is a willingness to discuss and compromise. Another work in progress but we are making progress.

Try to be healthy in body and mind

It is not always easy to squeeze in time for exercise when you are working 60 hour weeks. And when you finally have a spare moment you are more likely to collapse than drop and give 50 pushups. Retirement is a whole different ball game. You are now in control of your time. What I love about this freedom is I don’t have to force a workout into a designated time slot. I can get my exercise when I feel most inspired to do so. Of course sometimes I have to push myself a little should the inspiration fail to materialize. Eating right is also less challenging once retired. Instead of scarfing a sandwich during a fleeting five minute window you can prepare a more balanced tasty repast. We have located the best French bakery in the area (think fresh baguette) along with the closest weekly farmers market (think fresh fruit and veggies and local fish) and a cheese shop to end all (fromage!). I look forward to meals as we creatively combine local goodies never sure exactly what we will end up with but always pleased. We all know how important it is for our health and wellbeing to get regular exercise and eat well. Retirement can provide the time and flexibility to take care of yourself like you should.

Unleash the creative you

Retirees have free time on their hands. How they choose to spend it is entirely up to them. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to keep busy. If what you do is what you enjoy, keep doing it. I have found retirement a good time to revisit old passions as well as investigate new things. I like to write (blogging), I love music (back at the piano keys), I love nature (hiking nearby park or walking coastal paths), I have discovered a previously unknown love for Paris (taking history classes, learning the language, and visiting when I can), and I am trying my hand at cooking. Who knows what might be next. Doing what I want when I want makes retirement pretty special. I can’t wait for tomorrow!