My First Post-Retirement Performance Review

Unbelievably, I’ve been retired for an entire quarter already.  Since I’ve positioned Year One of retirement as scientific experimentation (which warrants some level of rigor) AND old corporate habits die hard, I feel compelled to give myself a post-retirement quarterly review.  Dusting off the old performance review templates from memory banks (and causing myself stress just thinking about it) here goes:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = bad/you suck, 5 = excellent/good job):

(1) Progress toward stated Year One goals:

Paris trip – 5

Rest/recuperation – 4 (points off for jet lag)

Have fun – 5

Clean-up projects around the house – 2

Clean-up projects in garage – Q2 – AFTER HOUSE

Route 66 driving trip – Q3 – AFTER HOUSE AND GARAGE

Observations: Q1 was dominated by R&R, travel and fun. I was primarily a big goof-off, which fit my objectives perfectly.  After catching up on sleep the first two weeks, the majority of waking hours was spent planning and executing our fabulous Paris trip, two reunion weekends (my law school and my husband’s high school) and then three additional trips to Annapolis and one trip to San Jose for Navy football games.  We managed to attend all five Navy home games AND the Navy–SJSU game (resulting in all W’s which should bump me up to a 5+ rating on some scale).  Out of curiosity, I tallied days home v. days away and we were clearly away more than home, almost twice as much September through November. Which is a perfect excuse for why I didn’t get more done at home.

I did start working on home cleanup projects in between trips.  I managed to make my way through 2 ½ rooms (including closets), as part of Operation Purge, which entails sorting, tossing and trips to Goodwill.  After the holidays, our travel will slow down and Operation Purge will swing into high gear.

(2) Positives:

Flexibility – I’ve really enjoyed the flexibility.  It’s fun to do things spontaneously and go places, like restaurants or the mall or movies, during off-hours and avoid crowds.   When planning trips we can go an extra day or two or (what the heck!) week to take advantage of lower fares or less traffic.

Free time – my free time is now truly free.  In the past, I rarely had a vacation where there was no BlackBerry to check, no email to return, no conference call THAT I JUST HAD TO dial into.  I can really relax and be present and enjoy myself.  On several of our fall trips to Annapolis for football games, we booked extra days and explored the area – we visited small towns we’d never seen, museums we’d never discovered, scenic drives we’d never taken.  With free time, the world becomes an oyster!

Less stress – See two points above.  Friends have commented (with no prodding on my part) that I look physically younger, happier and more relaxed.  I sleep better and my energy level is higher. I didn’t realize how much stress I was under until I was away from the job for a while.

Time with hubby – I was worried (as was my husband!) that too much together time might lead to unpleasant consequences, such as one of us killing the other.  It has been an adjustment (mostly with our home routine that I have disrupted).  However, for the most part it has surprisingly been a non-issue.   In fact, we are really enjoying doing things together, especially the travel.   I am thankful my husband is an available partner in my retirement activities.  If he was still working, I don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable.

Travel – something I loved about my job was the travel.  I relished staying in hotels, visiting new places and exploring cities.   However, I often didn’t have time to do much sightseeing when I was working.  Although I was perfectly happy traveling solo, expeditions with a partner are much more rewarding. Now, we can go to those bucket list places and do those bucket list things we’ve always talked about, and at our own pace.  I was gratified that our inaugural trip to Paris was a success and gave us the confidence and incentive to do more big trips.

(3) Challenges:

An office – it may sound silly, but I do miss having my own office.  When I was working, I shared our home office with my husband.  But there’s something important about having your own space.  Even in retirement, there are things to do – bills to be paid, appointments to be scheduled, events and travel to be planned, etc.  I am, for the time being, using my laptop and cellphone in our den as my office.    But I have no desk or desk chair or file cabinets (or IT department or administrative assistant or receptionist, but I need to get over that). For now it is working fine, but at some point I would like to set up my own home office space (maybe in my son’s room once he graduates college but don’t tell him yet).

Time management – after being constantly under the gun in the corporate world for the past 25 years, it’s difficult to approach a To Do list with anything other than a fanatic urge to finish as quickly as possible.   I find myself with that old familiar stress when I still have (horrors!) unchecked items on my list, even if they are things like “Look for Ribbon for the suitcases at Jo-Ann Fabrics” or “Sort Magazines on the Coffee Table.”  The other trap is that I am often unsure of what day of the week it is (forget ever knowing the date) and sometimes I have to think hard about what month it is.   Without the structure of work, it is easy to lose track of time. I know I have more time now, but the days seem to just fly by.  How did I ever have time for a job?

Lack of routine – since Q1 was all about travel, I haven’t really settled into a “normal” routine.  I still feel like I’m on an extended vacation.  In Q2, once our travel abates and I start working around the house, I would expect a more normal (or less abnormal?) daily rhythm to develop.

Post-retirement activities – somewhat related to the previous points, I have purposely not made any decisions about how I will spend my time after this first year and have in fact turned down several offers.  It has not yet become clear to me how I would like to spend the bulk of my future time in retirement.  I know that, in addition to our travel, I would like to get involved in ongoing “work,” whether that be volunteer, part-time or non-profit, that will be meaningful to me.    As much fun as I’m having with my life of merriment, I can already sense a need for some “greater good” purpose to be significantly reflected in my activities.  I also miss the camaraderie of co-workers and the sense of pride that comes with team/organizational accomplishments.  Once I have my major home projects under control, I will embark on a more focused search.

(4) 360 feedback:

For purposes of this review, I asked my sole “co-worker” (my husband) for feedback on how my retirement is going thus far.  His response was “You’re doing fine.”  Okay, then! Whether that answer stemmed from an understandable fear of the repercussions of saying anything negative or from extreme laziness in answering one stupid question, (hey I was in the same boat for 25 years, I know the game!) or was, in fact, an accurate assessment (albeit somewhat sparse), I can’t say for sure.  I will therefore interpret his response as akin to the proverbial “Pleasure to have in class” comment I always received from my teachers in grade school and leave it at that.

(5) Overall rating: 

5

That’s the other beauty of retirement.  I’m now the boss and I can rate myself whatever I want!

Giverny: A Day With Monet

If you ever want to step back in time and into an impressionist painting, I know just the place for you.  Go to Giverny and visit Claude Monet’s home and gardens, where he lived from 1883 until his death in 1926.

We took the train from Paris to Vernon and rode bicycles the four miles to the village of Giverny.  Evidently, Claude Monet also first spotted Giverny while looking out of a train window. He chose to move there, leasing a house and the surrounding area. Eventually he bought the home and property and set out to create the magnificent gardens he wanted to paint. Many of his well-known paintings were of his grounds in Giverny, famous for its rectangular walled garden, with archways of climbing plants entwined around colored shrubs. Equally striking are the water garden with the Japanese bridge and the pond with the celebrated water lilies (the subject of the iconic paintings hanging at the Musee L’Orangerie in Paris).

When planning our Paris vacation, I plugged Giverny into our itinerary toward the end, but labeled it “optional” since I was skeptical we would still have the energy or will by that point. Plus, I was dubious that my husband would be super excited about florae. I was pleasantly surprised when he checked out Giverny on-line and enthusiastically declared it a Must Do.  He even researched and led us to a local SNCF office where we pre-purchased our train tickets.

With that, we arose at zero dark thirty the next day and, having now become experts on the metro AND train (due to our previous trip to Normandy), embarked without incident.  We located the bicycle rental shop across from the Vernon train station and rode a bike path along a train right-of-way through the quaint French countryside.  I felt as if I was riding a magical bike back in time.

Monet's Gardens - a veritable explosion of color!

Monet’s Gardens – a veritable explosion of color!

We arrived at Monet’s house and gardens not long after it opened and the crowds were surprisingly sparse.   We entered the gardens and it was a “Wizard of Oz” moment.   You know — where Dorothy steps out of the house into Oz and the movie changes from black and white to Technicolor.   It was a veritable explosion of color.  And I needn’t have worried about my husband as he was equally or more taken with the place than I.   My ex-military, sports-loving husband was besotted with flowers. We couldn’t walk more than five steps before he’d stop to take a picture.  “Look at that flower!”  “Oh, look at that tree!”  “Wow, look at this!”  By the time we left Giverny, he had taken over 500 pictures.    When I later tried to put together a slide show of Giverny, after coming home, I was hard pressed to leave any of the photos out…each one was spectacular, unique, colorful and unforgettable.

There is an unfortunate coda to the story, when I ate salmon in cream sauce for lunch at an historic hotel café in Giverny, got sick to my stomach and threw up in a baguette bag on the train to Paris.   (Based on the very French-like reaction, I got a definite sense it was a very un-French thing to do.)  But regardless of its less than classy ending, I’m so glad the Giverny agenda item was upgraded from optional to mandatory.  It was a lifetime memory and a beautifully joyful complement to our other day trip to Normandy D-Day beaches.

A Post-Veterans Day Reflection from a Future Military Mom

My husband and I spent Veterans Day 2013 in Annapolis, MD.  Both Veterans Day and Annapolis hold great personal significance for me.  My father was an Annapolis graduate who served a 30-year career as naval officer; ultimately a Navy captain and dentist, he was a Korean and Vietnam War veteran.  He passed away on Veterans Day 2005.  My husband is a retired naval officer and aviator, also an Annapolis graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  I met my husband in northern Virginia at the tail end of his military career, while at his last duty station.   Our son is a current Midshipman at the Naval Academy and now lives in Annapolis.

Veterans Day in Annapolis

Veterans Day in Annapolis – surrounded by our past and future military leaders

It was the confluence of these factors that made this past Veterans Day in Annapolis a reflective, emotional experience for me. In the past 2-½ years since my son left home for the Academy I have been given a remarkable, eye-opening and at times unwelcome education on military life.  I thought being a Navy Mom would be relatively easy since I grew up in a Navy household and we moved from Navy town to Navy town, always surrounded by other military families.  I was used to the vernacular, the uniforms, and the way of life. I still feel at home when on a Navy base.  My mother made being a Navy wife, with all the moves and separations and challenges, look easy.  She was incredibly organized and competent, and running our home efficiently was her talent and passion.  I felt I knew and understood the pitfalls of a military family more than most.

But I was never an active duty Navy wife, and it’s a whole new ball of wax sending your child off to the military.  I have come to a greater appreciation of the hardships military families face, although I fully realize I have thus far only peeked in the door.  Any military “education” I’ve obtained as the daughter of a Navy captain or the mother of a midshipman is still at the preschool level compared to lessons borne by other military families.  The fundamental shift for me in the past 2-½ years has been emotional, in that I am now the parent of one of the 2% of America’s sons and daughters that have committed themselves to defend our country in battle and have thus placed themselves in harms way.  Non-military families are genuinely thankful and appreciative for others military service but it is impossible to fully understand (I know I didn’t) without that very real potential personal sacrifice. (I wonder if compulsory military service for our young people should be seriously considered and would be a greater deterrent to war, but that’s a separate discussion).

Our son is my only child and we were intensely involved in every aspect of his upbringing.  He is one of the two most precious people in my life. But two weeks after his high school graduation, we accompanied him to Annapolis for Induction Day, where he took his oath of office, after which pride turned to sadness when we left him to return home.  It was arguably one of the hardest things either my son or I had ever done.  He was left to complete “Plebe Summer” on his own, an intensive 6-week training regimen, with minimal contact with the outside world.  For me, it was returning without him to an intensely quiet house, and the differences in routines, large and small that almost always included our son.  At first, it felt like a death in the family, particularly with no contact with him for Plebe Summer.  At a minimum, it was a pretty extreme college ‘launch”.

But our son survived Plebe summer just fine and so did we.  And we have learned through our son’s USNA career that everything has a purpose. The Navy is teaching and preparing midshipmen for future naval careers. It is taking teenage superstars who have achieved much individual success and is molding them into a cohesive organization of young men and women who will work effectively as a team, by breaking them down and then building them back up.  The breaking down part first involves separation from everything they are familiar with (including friends, family and surroundings), beginning with Plebe Summer and then building them back up through education, camaraderie and leadership within the Brigade.   It does give me comfort that they are being expertly prepared for what may come.  The Navy is also giving us family members an education in letting go.  Difficult as it seemed at the time, Plebe summer was in fact a harmless practice “deployment” designed to teach us to separate from our kids.

Following successful completion of Plebe Summer and the entire Plebe (freshman) year that followed, our son has thrived at the Academy, and we have thoroughly enjoyed his time at USNA.  We joined the local Annapolis Parents Club and have met and befriended other Navy parents who we find to be, without exception, salt of the earth folk. I am on Facebook and chat pages for USNA parents. There is an amazing support system and bond  amongst military families precisely because of the unique journey we have found ourselves on. We have visited Annapolis often for football games and visits.  We have watched our son grow in confidence and abilities.  Now that he is a junior, he is taking on more leadership responsibilities. A strong and confident young man has replaced that nervous boy that we shipped off two years ago.  I have never been more proud.

But I know that the Academy is a relatively safe place preparing him for a very dangerous world.  I know that our experience thus far has been deceptively comfortable.  As his graduation next year looms, my thoughts increasingly turn to the next steps in the journey, when he begins professional training (e.g., flight school if he becomes an aviator) and later deployment.  This will then be the real world with real dangers and I will be forced to fully open that door.

Our recent travel to Normandy, where I grieved the loss of so many other sons, our association with other Navy and Marine parents, many of whom are now in the deployment phase of their sons’ and daughters’ careers, our increased exposure to the military on our numerous trips to Annapolis, a growing sense of what lays ahead for us – all of these have combined to instill in me a deep respect for the military families who have come before me.  I connect more emotionally now to my father’s career with a spouse and three children at home, my mother as a military spouse managing a household on her own, my husband who during his active duty career lost fellow aviators in battle, and the countless military families across the country who bear their burdens daily.

I recently asked both my husband and son how a midshipman feels about his or her potential future involvement in war.  I wondered – is the prospect something to be feared, to be welcomed or something else?  Both said that war is part of their commitment, something they train for and are prepared for, and which they do not fear.  My son mentioned that so many people thank him for his service that he and his classmates feel an obligation to actually serve. Many of our Annapolis Parents Club friends who now have deployed sons or daughters describe an intense mix of pride and fear.  They tell me they can’t dwell on the dangers their kids are facing, but the gnawing fear in the stomach is never far away.  After much reflection this past Veterans Day, I would like to personally salute and thank our military families past and present for their bravery and sacrifice.  I admire them more than ever. That small kernel of anxiety that is just beginning to form in my stomach pales in comparison to the enormous pressures, difficulties and fears that remain their constant companions.  And in the end, I rely on our Heavenly Father for comfort and protection and come back to the words of “Eternal Father” also known as the Navy Hymn:

“Eternal Father, strong to save.  Whose arm hath bound the restless wave.  Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep,  Its own appointed limits keep;  Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea.  Amen”

Travel with the Spouse: The Togetherness Test

I liken international travel with one’s spouse (especially when not on an organized tour) to an Advanced Placement Exam in Marital Compatibility.  And I admit to some apprehension approaching our recent 2-½ week trip to France.  My husband and I had not done much foreign travel together, and had certainly not been together, just the two of us, 24/7 for that length of time since our honeymoon in 1988; and even then (1) our honeymoon was not that long and (2) we both still thought the other perfect.

Although I am not a fan of reality TV (so the following comparisons may not be 100% accurate) I was hoping our trip to Paris would be more “The Bachelorette” (those episodes in which starry-eyed couples are whisked away to romantic far-flung scenic locations) and not “Survivor” (where contestants conspire to rid themselves of each other) but maybe a bit of “The Amazing Race” thrown in.    Though, with respect to the “The Amazing Race,” which I actually enjoy, I had always been vocal in my opinion that I would much rather be on a team with my son than my husband.   My son has a better sense of humor, and I could envision my husband and I being that bickering couple that can’t even agree on how to get the envelope with the next clue open.  We can both be rather, um, opinionated.

Indeed, our first few days in Paris were trying.    If the journey was an AP Exam for us as a couple, it was a physical endurance test for my husband.  For starters, he is very tall, doesn’t particularly like big cities or crowds, and is lactose intolerant. Consequently, he deserves bonus points right off the bat for venturing to the most densely populated city in Europe, where the apartments are so small he could barely fit in the shower with the door closed (much less turn around), and which is chock-full of cheese.    Add fatigue, jet lag, inclement weather, and the language barrier to the mix and we had a recipe for disaster brewing.  In fact, observing my husband, clearly at first a fish out of water in Paris, I was initially worried that my “dream” trip was headed towards spectacular calamity.  The fatigue led to grumpiness and unlike home, where one can simply go to the other side of the house or run errands, there was nowhere to escape each other and those irritating moods, quirks and habits. (Yes, we have discovered some imperfections in each other in the ensuing 25 years.)  I have also learned, over the years, that my husband is not a “Gee whiz, we are in Paris and isn’t this swell!”  kind of a guy.   He will instead often plod through a day impassively and then later declare it a wonderful experience.  Accordingly, all I could do was trust that this trip would ultimately prove to be at least retroactively fun.

On our recent trip to Paris

On our recent trip to Paris

As the days progressed and we recovered from our fatigue and jet lag, got our bearings and the weather mercifully improved (and we learned to ignore the French) we fell into a happier, more comfortable rhythm.  The days were mostly  “The Amazing Race” and we learned to function like a team.  Happily, our evenings truly were “The Bachelorette” and we had wonderful, romantic evenings with candlelit dinners and strolls back to our apartment along the River Seine.   And to my great relief, we never had a serious “Survivor” moment where we wished we could vote the other off the island.

Traveling with one’s spouse can be both rewarding and risky business.  Here’s my take-aways from the whole experience:

Teamwork and engagement are important.  I’m the planner in the family so I did all the pre-trip planning, and consequently began to think of it as “my trip.” I initially approached our days in Paris like a self-appointed Tour Guide and did all the legwork and made all the arrangements and it began to feel like a job. Even though part of me had trouble giving up control of “my trip”, I found to my relief that things worked much better and we both had more fun once my husband fully engaged and took on tasks.  There was much to figure out on the ground with respect to transportation (metro system, trains, street maps, etc.). He became our Chief Navigation Officer and was responsible for getting us to and from places with his iPhone navigation apps, and took ownership for some of the planning, as when he spearheaded a wonderfully memorable night walk to take photos at some of our favorite monuments.    Next time, I will look for ways to get him more involved earlier.

Go with the flow.  When traveling to a foreign country, especially on your own like we did, there are numerous surprises and things that don’t go according to plan. We both had to learn to be flexible with our plans and with each other.  There were times when I really wanted to do something, but I could see from my husband’s face that that something might put him over the edge.  It’s also important to recognize when one or both parties might need some alone time to recharge, or to do separate activities.  And some of our favorite experiences stemmed from spontaneous detours from plan that I might have initially resisted.  I hated the idea of going to a falafel place in Paris but we did and it was great.

Girlfriend trips are different.  I have gone on great trips over the years with my female friends.  We usually laugh, shop, talk and do all the other things girlfriends do when they get together.  A trip with my husband is fundamentally different, because the relationship is fundamentally different.  I love both types of trips , but I have learned the types of trips and activities that work better with my friends and those that work better with my husband, and its better not to mix the two..   Trying to get my husband to spend a day shopping or wandering aimlessly or playing bingo with me on a cruise ship is just not going to work.   That’s what my girlfriends are for!

Know when to bite your tongue.  Big one for me!  Once one or both of us gets tired and cranky, it doesn’t take much from the other for things to quickly escalate out of control.  And when together constantly, it can become a pressure cooker situation with no place to hide. It can start over the silliest things – like when I stopped to take a picture of a flower stand and then realized that my husband had taken off without me and then I finally caught up with him on busy Blvd St Germaine and was ready to tear his head off but thankfully thought better of it before I got too far in my “commentary”.  We had made a pact before we left home not to let any disagreements ruin our time together on this trip.  There were some minor flare-ups, but nothing serious, and it helped to count to ten and remember our pact.

Granted, these take-aways may seem to be rather basic relationship advice, but are things that can trip my husband and I up under normal circumstances, and it was important to recognize that extended togetherness can put additional strain on a marriage or other relationship and must be carefully managed.  International travel can be hard work!

And if this trip was an AP exam, what was the result?   We certainly didn’t get a perfect score, but we found ourselves to be surprisingly compatible!  That we successfully overcame every trial we faced together (sometimes smoothly, sometimes ugly) was a real boost to our relationship.  It was a challenging, incredible, life changing and shared experience.   If I had done this trip with someone else, I would not have been able to adequately convey what I saw and experienced to my husband.   Now that we’re back home, I love hearing him enthusiastically tell other people about all the things we did in France and his perspectives on the experience.   The trip confirmed and deepened our level of trust with each other.  When I got sick on the train coming back from Giverny (I’ll spare the details), I was exceedingly grateful that I was with my husband because I have the utmost confidence in him.   After years of balancing careers and family and tag teaming and co-parenting, now that we’re retired empty nesters, we re-discovered our abiding friendship.  We still really like each other! My husband may have some really annoying habits, but so do I (although I’m convinced mine are less annoying). Nonetheless our more unvarnished acceptance and affection for each other is a richer and more satisfying companionship.

Probably the single best indicator occurred before we had even left Paris, enroute to the airport for our flight home, when my husband turned to me and said (with palpable enthusiasm in his voice) ”So where should we go on our next big trip?!”