Alive and Well in Retirement!

This past weekend was the two-year anniversary of my first day of retirement. Looking back, these past two years have been a somewhat inconceivable journey, an education in more ways than I expected.

My last blog post was November 2014. I meant to keep it up, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t have the time or the inclination to post.   Among other things, I was consumed with planning festivities around my son’s graduation from USNA, suffered a major illness in March (pneumonia) that really knocked me for a loop, and then, once recovered, more travels with my husband (a 52-day road trip!).

Along the way, however, I felt a need to be more intentional about crafting a future life for myself. My first year or so of retirement I was purposely open-minded but noncommittal to activities and experiences. I tried new things, discovered activities I unexpectedly love (like yoga) and others that didn’t click as well. I mostly resisted obligations so I would be free to travel with my husband (another thing I found I love). I searched for the right rhythm of time spent alone, with husband, with friends. But with my son now graduated from college and fully launched, I sensed a new phase of my life that could be one of the best yet – if I was deliberate and purposeful about it. When else would I have my current absence of responsibilities (no job, parents or children depending on me) and the time, health, and money to be doing things truly fulfilling?

Mammoth Lakes… a stunning example of why I love our travels

As my husband always says, I have way too much horsepower to not be doing something. But what was that “something”?   Although I didn’t realize it at the time, in hindsight, this kicked off a soul-searching process, in which I examined everything in my life – marriage, family relationships, friendships, faith, leisure, work. I threw things up and arranged and rearranged the pieces in my mind. I thought and prayed about each area of my life and how they would fit into my ideal purposeful life. All this mental activity was overlaid by a relatively new factor in my decision-making – my own mortality – which argued against wasting time and for decisiveness and risk-taking.

A key awareness that came out of this contemplative process was around the question of work. Although not feeling a call to go back to full-time employment, I do miss aspects of my former work life – the structure, camaraderie, challenge, and, honestly, the compensation.   I considered various part-time and contract job options. I thought about writing or blogging as a career. I prayed for opportunities that would address my longing for meaningful work but also allow space for other parts of my retired life that I now cherish. In one of my 1:30 AM brainstorming sessions (I often do my best thinking in the crossover between awake and asleep) a plan materialized. But first I must back up.

In January of 2014, about five months after I retired, I reconnected with my friend Cissy. She and I were in a women’s prayer group many years ago and had kept in casual contact with each other after the group disbanded. Over lunch, I told her I’d long wanted to work with a nonprofit organization after I retired, but was not sure which one or in what capacity. Cissy shared that she wanted to start a nonprofit and asked if I would be willing to help. That invitation started us both down an often-miraculous path resulting in me today being the co-founder (with Cissy) and Board Chair of Alive and Well Women. Our mission is to help women navigate toxic cultural messages about health, beauty and sexuality so we can thrive amidst the multiple stages of the female life cycle. In the past year and a half, we have formed the Board, obtained 501(c)(3) status, and raised enough money to develop our branding and website (which we are in the process of launching).

Alive and Well Women was clearly Cissy’s brainchild. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and nationally recognized eating disorders specialist. She began offering retreats, workshops and groups in 2007 out of her discovery that community support is the key to healing women’s shame-based relationships with their bodies. Her idea in forming the nonprofit was to allow us to bring the curriculum to women who might not otherwise be able to afford the workshops.

Thus far, I have thought of myself as the person who helped Cissy launch her nonprofit. I was reluctant to commit too much to the effort. Then, during my period of soul-searching, I worked with Cissy on a grant proposal. What I discovered is that grant writing is not much different than responding to RFPs, something I did in my former corporate career, but far more satisfying.

Fast forward to my 1:30 AM Sunday session. What came to me in an inspired flash was that I could be the Grantwriter for Alive and Well Women! That would allow me to work part time (and still have the flexibility to travel), to write, collaborate with Cissy, develop new skills and networks, and potentially earn compensation (if I am successful in winning grant funds). I proposed the new arrangement the next day to Cissy, who was both grateful and encouraging.   The following Saturday I took a class that was offered coincidentally (or not!) through the local community college on grantwriting, which undoubtedly spared me significant trial and error time.

So, I’m off on my new “career”! What I have since discovered, through research and meetings with other nonprofits, is that grantwriting will not be as easy as I first envisioned. Prior to even writing a grant proposal, it takes a fair amount of research to find appropriate funding sources, and then more effort to determine whether potential grants are worth pursuing (as in the corporate world, a big part is who you know so networking is important). Then there is strategy for finding the “mission match” (discovering and demonstrating the complementary goals for funder and recipient). But I am so enjoying the challenge!

And something else remarkable happened along the way. As I have become more emotionally committed to Alive and Well Women, I find myself crafting my own “Alive and Well Women” story. Rather than just being Cissy’s friend who helped start the nonprofit, I am discovering the parts of Alive and Well Women that speak to me in my own life journey and embracing them. I am finding that, for me, I have more passion for issues of women’s empowerment than embodiment. As a result, I have decided to re-focus my blog as a forum to discuss what “Alive and Well Women” means to me in this phase of life. Stay tuned!

Advice for the Route 66 Road-Tripper

Since my husband and I recently drove the entire length of Route 66 westbound from Chicago to LA (and can now call ourselves experts) it is my newfound responsibility to give sage advice to future Route 66 travelers. So then, here’s my Top 5 List:

 

We loved the freedom of the open road, the small towns and lack of traffic

We loved the freedom of the open road, the small towns and lack of traffic

1)   Do it!

The trip was far more interesting and rewarding than I anticipated. We saw parts of the country we never would’ve seen otherwise, and gained an unexpected real-time education about American history, culture, geography and science. We found certain sections we yearn to revisit for further exploration, and we would absolutely consider doing the whole thing again. I was disappointed when I heard that Route 66 road trips are far more popular among foreigners than Americans.   Anyone, especially an American, who loves a good road trip AND a good story unfolding before their eyes, should drive Route 66 at least once in their life!

2)   Give yourself plenty of time

Once you decide to do a Route 66 road trip, you should determine how long you are able and/or willing to spend on it, and that will dictate your itinerary. I didn’t quite appreciate this before our trip, but I can now unequivocally state that one could literally spend weeks or even months on Route 66 — if one stopped and explored all sights and side trips along the way  (like the Palo Duro or Grand Canyons). At a minimum, however, you should allocate at least two weeks (one-way), which still means a fairly aggressive timetable with minimal stops and side trips, but allowing for a reasonable daily pace. We discovered that, due to the road conditions, we couldn’t go more than about 150 – 180 miles (or 6-7 hours) per day. Plus, we made a daily stop for lunch (a highlight!) and never drove at night. If you are not able to devote two weeks, consider doing a smaller section of Route 66, giving yourself ample time to enjoy it.

3)   Decide how purist you want to be

Contrary to popular belief, Route 66 no longer technically exists. Even in its heyday, it was a patchwork of roads and highways that were designated as Route 66, and the route was constantly evolving as new roads and interstates were built and older sections replaced. The entire Route 66 was decommissioned in the 1980s.  Today it is not a well-defined or well-marked route, which is both fun and challenging.

So, when planning a Route 66 road trip, there are many choices of alternate routes and you should realistically assess your style, preferences and patience. One can follow the older versions of Route 66 (some parts of which are now dirt or gravel roads or completely disappeared) or the latest versions (which include stretches of modern Interstates) or some combination. There are guidebooks and maps available (see below) that will help you find these routes. Don’t leave home without them! We chose to mostly follow the older versions (unless it was really rough or nonexistent or there was something we wanted to see along a newer stretch), which took us through small towns and scenic countryside unfettered by traffic, but it also meant slower going and more stamina required.

 4)   Don’t over-plan….and be adventurous!

We did not leave home with a detailed pre-planned itinerary for our trip.  We knew when we needed to be back home, and had a rough itinerary (which got us home with plenty of time to spare) sketched out, but left the exact timing and route flexible.  Once we got on the road, we quickly discovered we couldn’t go as far as we anticipated each day, so our original schedule was out the door.  We basically planned each night how far we would go the next day, where we would stop for lunch, and any special sights or side trips.  We also left time to explore along the way, which gave us plenty of leeway to meander without pressure to be anywhere at a certain time. It was a very liberating way to travel!

We stopped for lunch (and often dinner) at older cafes and diners in small towns that gave us a flavor for the fare served on old Route 66. We learned much about regional food, and about the people and history from the townsfolk we met in these eateries. We found these restaurants through our Route 66 guidebooks (and then double-checked TripAdvisor to weed out the dogs). Some of the places looked dicey from the outside but, with few exceptions, they proved to be enjoyable, typically inexpensive, memorable and, almost always, tasty experiences for us. The restaurants truly appreciated our patronage (many small towns rely on Route 66 tourism for survival) and the proprietors and workers went out of their way to make us feel welcome and provide any assistance we needed.

In addition to our restaurant adventures, some of our best memories stemmed from impromptu stops or side trips that completely surprised and delighted us. Like the stop at a restored schoolhouse in an abandoned California town in the Mojave Desert where we were met at the door by the gentleman and his wife who had labored to restore the building and who gave us a personal 45-minute tour of the property. Or the visit to “Blue Hole” a natural spring in New Mexico, where we watched teenagers gleefully jumping in off the surrounding rocks. There were countless visits to Route 66 ghost towns that were both intriguing and eerie to explore.

When it came to hotels, however, we were guilty of being less than adventurous. I originally intended to stay at some of the “vintage” motels along the way. We heard that the European Route 66 road trippers love these old motels. But we found that after a long day of driving and navigating the Route 66 maps and guidebooks, we preferred a comfortable modern hotel (not Ritz Carlton but Hampton or Holiday Inn) with amenities (like a hot tub) and we learned that AAA consistently offered the best rates. Although there were some nice exceptions, most of the “historic” or “vintage” motels were more like “seedy” to me. (I admit – after many years of business travel, I’m a hotel snob.)

The bottom line is — be open to adventures to get the most out of your trip, but accept your limits and be comfortable in your journey. Nobody is going to mark you down if you occassionally drive an Interstate, or eat at a Morton’s Steakhouse, or stay at a Hilton.

5)   Do your research and use the great tools available!

Since Route 66 is fairly complicated to follow, you must do some advance research, unless you enjoy getting lost.   And even then, prepare to get lost. There are some excellent Route 66 guidebooks and maps that will save time and make your journey much easier. Our Bible was the “EZ66 Guide for Travelers” by Jerry McClanahan (we even stopped in Chandler, OK to meet him and he signed our book). It gives detailed turn-by-turn instructions for following Route 66 (and its various incarnations) and lists interesting sights along the way. When we talked to Jerry, he mentioned that his book has reportedly saved countless marriages. My husband also found “The Route 66 Map Series” by Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross, which is a set of eight foldout maps showing the route through the 8 states through which Route 66 runs. We brought the “Route 66 Adventure Handbook” by Drew Knowles, which describes offbeat roadside attractions, vintage motels and cafes, and which we used for color commentary along the way. For finding restaurants (and theoretically lodging) we consulted “The Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide” published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. Pre-trip I visited the local AAA office and picked up 2 bags of maps and guidebooks, covering every state that we would be visiting. And since my husband hates to get lost, he went the extra step of using the “EZ66 Guide” to program the route for the next day into our Garmin GPS. Even so, we did lose our way a few times, but never hopelessly, and after a few days under our belt we really mastered our navigation techniques which worked like a charm. I really can’t imagine trying to follow Route 66 without the help of these maps and books.

In short, Route 66 may seem like a daunting proposition, but with a little thought and preparation, it can be the trip of a lifetime…and you t0o will be hooked!

How Route 66 Made Me a Better Person

After a short time of rest and recovery, I’ve come to the conclusion that our Route 66 road trip was a profound and life-changing experience. Not to be overly dramatic, but the sights, sounds, people, food, history and our shared adventure contributed to an extraordinary journey of discovery. And it just might have made me a better person.

Here are some things that made the journey especially meaningful:

1) Our Route 66 trip was an expedition

There are a couple of fundamental things to understand about Route 66. First of all, it doesn’t formally exist anymore. Route 66 was officially established in 1926, consisting of a patchwork of roadways. The “Mother Road” was changed and re-routed over the years, and finally, in the mid-1980’s was officially decommissioned as the Interstates replaced the older roads. Secondly, it takes diligent research and work to follow Route 66 since there are multiple variations, much of it is unmarked and some of it no longer exists. Based on our library of guidebooks, each night my husband (like a modern-day Meriwether Lewis) would plan the route for the next day, download it into the Garmin, and I (his faithful William Clark) would plot lunch, dinner and sightseeing stops. This was no casual road trip.

Our Route 66 Itinerary showing our stops

Our Route 66 Itinerary showing our stops

2) We were purist in our route selection

Since there are multiple variations of Route 66, the traveler has many options along the way: the older routes (usually frontage roads and business routes, but in some cases dirt or gravel roads), the newer roads (which sometimes included 4-lane Interstates which replaced Route 66) or some combination. We opted to mostly navigate the older roads (including some dirt) and use Interstates only when absolutely necessary. This meant we could rarely travel more than 150-200 miles per day, but it took us through small towns and countryside we would never have seen from the Interstate. And we can now proudly claim to have traversed the true Route 66!

3) Route 66 produced a vivid lesson in American history

Driving Route 66 westbound was a fascinating and experiential living classroom on American history and culture. From Chicago through Missouri, we encountered much of the odd kitsch that I expected from Route 66. There were vintage gas stations, cars and motels; a host of giant objects like muffler men, hot dogs, rocket ships, rocking chairs and neon signs, designed primarily to attract attention and lure customers. From St. Louis and especially Oklahoma westward, though, Route 66 really captured me, as it became the story of America’s westward expansion, growth pains and migration. We visited excellent museums that brought to life narratives of the pioneers in covered wagons who bravely crossed rugged western trails (precursors to Route 66), the “Okies” and other human casualties of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression (and their courage, grit and determination in the face of tremendous hardship), the traditions and repatriation of Native Americans, and the history of American vehicles – from covered wagon to Model T to Corvette. As we drove Route 66, which, unlike the Interstates, follows the natural contour of the landscape, resulting in curvy, winding roads and steep grades, we were overwhelmed as we considered what it was like for an entire family to drive these roads with all of their belongings strapped to a Model T with no air conditioning, unable to go more than 150 miles on a full tank of gas. The experience made the tales of American 20th century travel and migration fly off the pages of history books.

4) The landscape was spectacular

On the same day that I took my favorite silly photo of the trip (standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ) we also saw the Painted Dessert and the Petrified Forest.   We went from the lush green and plains of Illinois and Missouri, across the legendary Mississippi River, to the Great Plains of Oklahoma and Kansas to the cap rock and Staked Plains of the Texas panhandle to the purple mountains of New Mexico, and the deserts and mountains of Arizona and California. We saw the southernmost end of the Grand Canyon near Flagstaff. I was left in awe of the Creator of this masterpiece as well as the adaptability of the settlors of such varied habitats.

 5) We learned the importance of roadways to towns

Route 66 demonstrated that roadways are like rivers – when they are re-routed, the effect on the inhabitants is dramatic. In many cases, we drove on frontage roads or business routes right alongside the busy Interstate. Elsewhere, Route 66 was far from major highways. In all instances, there was little traffic on non-Interstate sections of Route 66, and we drove through small towns that the Interstates now bypass. Some of these small towns are surviving solely from the resurgence of tourism on Route 66; others have become eerie ghost towns; still others either ruins or completely vanished. We learned and saw first-hand how decisions (some quite political in nature) as to routing and exits of Interstates impact the very survival of these small towns and their residents. We heard story after story of occupants or even entire towns forced to relocate due to re-routing of roadways over the years.   The ubiquitous abandoned gas station we saw on every stretch was like fossilized evidence of the fluid nature of the Mother Road.

We also realized how much one misses when traveling solely on Interstates. We enjoyed seeing small towns and always made a point to stop at older establishments for lunch. We learned a great deal about the towns’ histories and cultures by talking with waitresses, proprietors and others we met. At the Lewis Cafe in St. Clair, MO, the waitress told us most of their Route 66 tourism business is now European, who see Route 66 as a uniquely American adventure and love eating at the old diners and staying at the old motels along the way. That news was surprising to me (Route 66 was hard enough to navigate without a foreign language in the mix and driving on the opposite side), and a little sad that fellow Americans are not taking the time to experience Route 66. In an older section of Albuquerque, NM, at Mary & Titos (est. 1953), a small hole-in-the-wall family-owned restaurant, we were treated to what was arguably our best meal of the trip, their award-winning carne adovada. The founders’ grandson gave us a detailed account of the peppers that are key to New Mexican cooking, and told us that many of their cooking staff have been constant for over 30 years and that few of their recipes are written (“its all in our heads”). Route 66, like a river, took us on an unforgettable passage through the core of America.

6) We had a terrific time together

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the prospect of being cooped up in a car for at least 20 days (counting both eastbound and westbound trips) with another person (even if it was my loving husband). The potential was there to really get on each other’s nerves.

But I must say, like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, we made a great team!  There was one day where we almost killed each other – the first day we embarked on Route 66 from Chicago. That day, I realized a Route 66 expedition ideally takes four people (the driver, the navigator, the tour guide and the photographer) and that I had three of the jobs. All was going well until we got lost in a cornfield somewhere in Illinois and an argument between driver (husband) and navigator (myself) ensued.   The situation was effectively remedied over dinner that night, when I politely tendered my resignation from the navigation committee. From then on, my husband planned and programed the routes, and followed the GPS.   That freed me to take pictures, look for and point out sights along the way (although I did try to keep an eye on the map, just in case).  Our revised system worked splendidly for the balance of the trip.

The important thing was that we worked well as a team – we enjoyed each other’s company, we resolved any disagreements that came up, and we completed the trip with an enormous sense of shared accomplishment. Although we were tired and looking forward to getting home by the end, we were surprised to both feel a real let-down at the trip end, and we almost immediately felt an itch to get back in the cherry red Traverse……..and do another Road Trip!!!!!

 

The Loneliest Road in America

And…we’re off!!! On the Great American Road Trip. Our first night was spent at my sister-in-law’s house in the Bay Area. The next day we crossed the San Francisco Bay Bridge and drove to Sacramento, where at twelve noon, ON THE DOT (not planned, but how dramatic!) we hit the start of Route 50 and the Official Route 50 Road Trip began.

 

The beginning of Route 50, just west of Sacramento, CA

The beginning of Route 50, just west of Sacramento, CA

From Sacramento, we drove to Fallon, NV. Our scheduled lunch stop was in South Lake Tahoe, CA at the Red Hut Cafe. The Guidebook urged a stop here at the circa 1959 cafe – the original of several locations. As we pulled up, the neon “Open” light suddenly switched to “Closed” and my heart sank, worried this did not bode well for our trip. I pulled out my iPhone ready to locate another restaurant, when I noticed 3 women milling about in the café and jumped out to talk to them.   These incredibly friendly women (who worked there) informed me that the café just closed but there was another Red Hut right down the street, which was still open. We proceeded to the other Red Hut and had a lovely lunch overlooking Lake Tahoe.

After tooling around stunning Lake Tahoe a bit, we continued to Fallon for the night (crossing the Nevada border at 3 pm ON THE DOT). Up to that point, I hadn’t covered any new ground. Beginning in Fallon, I saw new sights, including the Fallon Naval Air Station (which hosts the Top Gun school) where my son may be stationed someday.

The t-shirt I picked up at the Chevron station in Eureka NV

The t-shirt I picked up at the Chevron station in Eureka NV

Also beginning in Fallon is the stretch of Route 50 dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.” By the end of that day, we completely understood the moniker. Between Fallon, NV and Delta, UT, we encountered 410 miles of generally straight road, sagebrush, mountain and blue sky. We rarely saw other cars or people. There was no Internet coverage. Our lunch stop was in tiny Eureka, NV, where our waitress told us that her entire graduating high school class consisted of 17 students. While the school offered sports, the students had to play all of them to field enough players for the teams.

The scenery was striking, but hour after hour of relative uniformity became monotonous. I amused myself initially by taking pictures with my iPhone. After 30 or 40 landscape photos looked identical, I switched my focus to Route 50 signs. I found myself increasingly dazed, and the Route 50 signs snuck up on me. It was not easy taking clear photos at 70 mph through the car window or windshield, with the reflection and the GPS and radar detection in the way. Add my trance-like state, and dull reflexes, and an extensive library of blurry Route 50 sign photos resulted.

 

The collection of photos I took with my iPhone on the stretch of Route 50 known as "The Loneliest Road in America"

The collection of photos I took with my iPhone on the stretch of Route 50 known as “The Loneliest Road in America”

My next coping mechanism was my Easter chocolate. After 6 dark chocolate eggs and a marshmallow patty, I felt alive again with the sugar coursing through my veins. After a couple more hours, however, the blood sugar plunged and fatigue really hit us. So we reverted to our secret weapon – Disney songs. For the next few hours, we sang along with our entire Disney Collection at the top of our lungs. From Sleeping Beauty to Jungle Book to Mulan to Pocahontas, we sang all the parts, amazing ourselves at our mastery of the lyrics (from all those years of Disney music when our son was younger).   We came alive!   We had fun! We were silly! Thanks to chocolate and Disney, the Loneliest Road in America turned out to be anything but, and a surprisingly splendid start to our Great American Road Trip.

How Our Road Trip Almost Stalled

We have been planning a cross-country road trip for quite some time.   It started with a proposed trip to my brother’s house and morphed into a Great American Road Trip. And then it almost broke down before we left the garage.

Our projected itinerary follows Route 50 eastbound and Route 66 westbound.   I initially wanted to drop some things off at my brother’s house in St Louis, and then we decided to keep going to Annapolis to visit our son. And since we have to get home, we decided to do the return trip via Route 66. Then we added a couple of stops with friends and family…and viola…our delivery trip became a national expedition.

Last month, I spent two full days sitting (without moving) at the dining room table with my laptop planning the itinerary and stops, complete with hotels and lunch and dinner spots. I scored 2 bags of maps and guidebooks from AAA, and my husband ordered me a complete Route 66 library from Amazon so I consulted piles of maps, books and guides in the process.

A small sampling of my planning tools

A small sampling of my planning tools

My husband also found some guy on-line who plotted and posted the coordinates for Route 66 on his Garmin, so my husband was in charge of plotting our exact driving route and making our hotel reservations.

As of 3 days before we were scheduled to leave, I noticed that the hotel reservations hadn’t been made. Which wasn’t critical, since we could always make them as we went.   Two days before we were scheduled to leave, I finished my packing list and all that was left for me was the actual packing. I glanced at my husband’s To Do list, and noticed it was two pages single-spaced, including the laundry.

Then disaster struck. Two days before we were scheduled to leave on our trip, we returned home late that evening from a family event. I remarked that the house seemed rather humid, and I was getting ready for bed when my husband rushed in, looking like a doctor with a grim prognosis. He stated very seriously “We may have to delay our trip. I’m serious.” He went on to explain how he had discovered a broken pipe under our house that was spraying water in the crawl space. The most worrisome part was that this probably had been going on for a while since we had heard a mysterious whooshing sound coming from below our dining room for months. We were concerned about mold. I started researching mold and water damage, and then flights to Annapolis.

My husband turned off the water (no laundry!) and decided to call the plumber first thing in the morning.   We woke up at around 6:00 AM and drove 1 block to the YMCA to use their toilets (I told you the YMCA membership was a lifesaver). After we called the plumber, the pool guy showed up. I only heard part of the conversation but some important “cell” was broken and in need of repair or replacement. At that point, I decided what would be the most helpful was for me to return to the YMCA for my Gentle Yoga class. I also did what I am getting much better at since I retired – I turned the entire situation over to God and decided I would be at peace with whatever outcome, which was looking less and less like an extended road trip.

Two hours later, I returned from yoga to discover that my heroic husband had everything under control. The pipe had been repaired, there was no evidence of mold, the pool part was ordered and the washer and dryer were going. He had made arrangements with the plumber, pool service and our house sitter to have everything handled while were gone.

When I asked if he thought we would still be able to leave, perhaps a day later (since with all the house problems I assumed the To Do list still needed tackling), my husband informed me that we would be able to leave right on schedule.   And we did – having begun our adventures before we even left the house.

March Madness

A few weeks ago I came home to find my husband working intensely on the computer. I knew he was behind on a few projects that he was having trouble focusing on, so I was glad to see him so locked in.

“Hi! Are you working on the Treasurer’s Report? Or maps for our trip?”

“Nope,” he mumbled, barely looking up, “my bracket.”

Oh, geez, I thought. It’s here again – the NCAA tournament, arguably my husband’s happiest time of year. My usual mild annoyance with the upcoming prospect of 3 straight weeks of nonstop basketball turned to abject terror as I realized I would no longer have the job or the office as my quiet space. With the lucky exception of a silent retreat weekend I booked for myself and a mens retreat he booked for himself, this year I would be living full-time in the thick of March Madness. And what I subsequently witnessed really was a curious form of madness.

My husband's 2014 NCAA bracket

My husband’s 2014 NCAA bracket

Over the next few days my husband consulted websites and churned out spreadsheets and schedules and brackets, placing his annual wager with his brother, with the intensity ratcheted higher by the addition of the Warren Buffet $1 Billion Bracket Challenge.

And then the tournament began. There are something like 46 games played the first few days. I am pretty sure my husband watched most of them. Sometimes he watched one on the TV, another on the computer, another on his iPad. When I walked by the bathroom, I heard a game on an iPhone through the door.

The farther his favorite team (UCLA) advanced in the tournament, the more emotional he became.  After UCLA won their first game against Tulsa, my husband immediately began talking about the Bruins winning the national title, which usually made him misty-eyed just thinking about it. It seemed that several teams from the Pac-12 (his favorite conference) went farther than expected. It was shaping up to be a magnificent tournament!

In order to pace myself, I usually don’t pay much attention until the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight rounds. I enjoy watching a game or two at a time, but not 34. So, when I was home, I spent most of the first week quarantined in the den with plenty of reading material while my husband sat transfixed by the TV. From the other room, I would hear yelling (presumably at the refs or players) or hooting and hollering (probably at a great shot or block or play). It actually made me smile to be witness to this odd form of insane joy. It was rather touching to see my husband so enthralled – like my son used to be with Pokemon or Power Rangers.

I have seen statistics, which in the past I assumed were overblown, demonstrating a downturn in workplace productivity during March Madness. I never paid them much attention since I was apparently part of the minority actually working non-distractedly during the tournament. After personally living the full March Madness effect, however, I can now totally agree that it impairs concentration on non-basketball activities.

For 3 weeks, during meals, car rides, walks, most of our conversation revolved around the tournament. My husband would randomly blurt out his latest thoughts on UCLA, scouting reports on players and match-ups with other teams, bad calls by the refs, etc.   He was obsessed.

UCLA won their first two rounds and the team was then set to play the overall #1 seed, Florida, in the Sweet Sixteen round. My husband was certain UCLA would win and approached the game like a four-year-old heading to Disneyland, barely able to contain himself. San Diego State (my home-town team) also made the Sweet Sixteen, playing Arizona, so I decided to really start watching and rooting in earnest for these two teams (although my husband informed me the SDSU Aztecs were dead to him since they were playing Arizona from the Pac-12).

And then the madness ended as quickly and abruptly as it began. At the end of the night, my poor husband sat dejected and heartbroken after Florida beat UCLA. And following the next round, there were no more Pac-12 teams left. At the conclusion of the UCLA game, he solemnly declared that his heart was no longer in the tournament, and there was no further reason for him to watch.

We did, of course, watch the rest of the tournament, somewhat somberly (still grieving for UCLA) but with reverence for the survivors. I now feel that I have been properly inculcated into the full March Madness experience. I marvel at the level of fan intensity and have a heightened respect for the emotions provoked by this tournament. The “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” is a gross understatement. But you know what? There’s something oddly appealing about this madness. Maybe next year, I’ll fill out a bracket.

My Girlie Adventure Morning

My friend Patti called me earlier this week and asked if I would be interested in a Girlie Adventure.  She’s a Girl Mom (she has two daughters) and knows that since I’m a Boy Mom, I don’t often get to do Female Stuff.  So when her daughters are home, she kindly lets me tag along.

This time, the Girlie Adventure was a trip to the LA Fashion District.  Patti explained that on the last Friday of each month, the designers sell their “samples” at rock-bottom prices.  Sales are cash only, and I was told to wear an outfit that would lend itself to trying on clothes in a crowd. Patti suggested that I wear a camisole and leggings, with a dress or something over them that I could easily take off for fittings, and bring a large tote bag for purchases.

Last night, I looked through my closet and found a yellow camisole and decided to pair it with my yoga pants.  Then I looked for a dress to throw over it, and the only possibility unearthed was a cheap, extremely dated, khaki thing I bought at Target years ago.  Since my yoga pants were black, I saw no reason why I couldn’t wear my comfy black Clark’s walking shoes (with my white sport socks). And because my Target dress was short-sleeved, I found an old tan sweater (made from bamboo fibers) from Sports Chalet to keep me warm. Being a Boy Mom, I was going for functional.

I first grasped the folly of my wardrobe strategy when Alana (Patti’s daughter) came to my front door this morning.  Besides being young and generally adorable, she wore black leggings and a chic blouse with matching sweater.  When I got to their car, Patti looked put together in leggings and a tunic.  And here I was heading to the Fashion District in my Wal-Mart Eccentric look.  So, for lack of other options, I decided to just embrace it. The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising is a few blocks from my former office, and fairly outrageous outfits are commonplace on the FIDM students, so I decided my best strategy was to carry myself like I meant to dress this way.

 

Modeling my Wal-Mart Chic at the Johnny Was showroom

Modeling my Wal-Mart Chic at the Johnny Was showroom

As we drove to the Fashion District, I realized it was about four blocks from the office where I worked for twenty years. Of course, being a Boy Mom, I was oblivious.  After parking and walking to the LA Fashion Mart, we began our adventure in the New Mart building at the Johnny Was showroom, which was a little larger than my family room, only crammed with 50 women, some of them crazed.  This is where I got my first taste of Fashion Mart guerilla-shopping tactics.   There were racks of clothing samples, in no particular order; most of them size S or 6. There was one mirror at the far end of the room.  Women (many of them clearly not size S or 6) were ripping off their clothes (believe me, it wasn’t as appealing as it might sound) to try on clothes, and jockeying for mirror space. Patti saw some other woman carrying a blouse that she liked, so she stalked the poor woman for fifteen minutes until she finally dropped it.  (I offered to give the woman unsolicited negative feedback).  Then, when making purchases, there was an art to skillful haggling and negotiation over price.

At the Johnny Was showroom, I expended an inordinate amount of effort trying on piles of clothes, only to identify a mere two blouses that looked decent on me.  It was especially galling to see that no matter what Alana tried on, she looked gorgeous. I was heartened when two young shoppers asked me about pricing on samples.  I took that as an indication I looked like I belonged in this scene. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see my Wal-Mart Eccentric look take off at Fashion Mart.) I was bummed, however, when I inquired as to the price of my potential buy, and was told that the two items exceeded my entire self-imposed budget for the day (even after haggling over price).  On to the next showroom!

I finally found success in another showroom in another building (the California Mart) where I spotted a Vince Camuto dress that Patti and Alana agreed was flattering and that I nabbed for $25. I was doubly happy to have something to wear, other than Target, to a DVF exhibit at LACMA tomorrow.

 

Outrageous Fashion Mart Moments

Outrageous Fashion Mart Moments

Once we each had at least one purchase under our belt, it was time to get goofy.  We agreed to look for outrageous photo opportunities and found success in the European Design and the Hats and Accessories sections.  We tried not to offend the shopkeepers as we identified some truly amusing clothing items and photographed ourselves in them.  The problem, again, was that no matter what we put on Alana, she still looked annoyingly cute.

 

"The Three Fashionistas"   A classic women's fashion shoot

“The Three Fashionistas”
A classic women’s fashion shoot

Our piece de resistance, shot on our way out, I’ve entitled “The Three Fashionistas,” a timeless portrait of us posing amongst the fashion dummies in the lobby of the California Mart, taken by a complete stranger with my iPhone.  There are no doubt universal themes and messages, none of them particularly meaningful, embedded in this exquisite portrait that perfectly and brilliantly captures our wildly entertaining and wacky Girlie Adventure.

If I’m Retired, Why Am I So Busy?

The other night as I lay in bed my head was spinning (as it regularly did at 3 AM when I was working).  The difference, thankfully, was that I didn’t have that old panicky, pit-in-the-stomach, cold-sweat, something-awful-is-going-to-happen-tomorrow type of anxiety.  But, I did realize I am dang busy!   How did that happen?!

Even though I made a promise to myself, that I have largely kept, not to make any major commitments to anyone or anything this first year of retirement, I have still found it surprisingly easy to fill up my calendar. First, there are the extra lunches, golf outings, exercise classes, cooking attempts, manicures, Bible studies, retreats, and various other adventures I am now enjoying with my husband and friends. And then there are my personal projects – all of them voluntarily and enthusiastically taken on, but time-consuming nonetheless.

Since I had so many loose ends floating around in my mind, I decided it was time for a comprehensive, detailed, official To Do list. I’m usually pretty good about keeping my calendar and To Dos mostly in my head, but when I start “brain swirling,” I have found it much more manageable to get everything down on paper.  Then I don’t have to keep it all brain-filed, and my life usually doesn’t look quite as intimidating as I feared at 3 AM.

My To Do List - it continues on the back.....

My To Do List – it continues on the back…..

This time, I surprised even myself with my To Do list. No wonder my thoughts are whirling!    I have an extended out-of-town family reunion I am organizing, a cross-country road trip I am plotting, a nonprofit organization I am helping to launch, a trip to Ireland I am planning, photo books from our Paris trip I am finishing, a son’s upcoming college graduation to manage, and some financial planning and estate planning issues to work through.  On top of that, I am taking community college classes and exploring potential second career ideas.  And those are just the major headings without all the underlying details!

The delightful part is that I’m loving all of it.   I do need to continuously monitor my busyness level so I don’t end up back on the hamster wheel, but I am incredibly grateful to have a To Do List that looks like mine.  I am increasingly mindful that our trips and activities do take time and effort to plan and execute, and I am Chief Planner in our family. (All this fun takes work!) I don’t know how I could do more than one major international trip a year.  I spent probably 4-6 almost full-time weeks planning our trip to Paris, another month away on the trip and another couple of months recovering and creating slide shows and photo books.  And all those projects I never had time for when I was working? Well, some of them I still don’t seem to have time for!

I had to laugh when, as often happens nowadays, I was being heavily recruited to take on a major job with a social club we joined a couple years ago.  The President began by saying “You’re retired now – you should have plenty of free time!”  Well, yes, and no. I should’ve showed her my To Do list. But then, that wouldn’t gain me any sympathy.

An Ode to the YMCA: Exercise to the rescue

I HEART the YMCA.  It has been a lifesaver.  Following the conclusion of our 5-month post-retirement travel blitz, my subsequent mini-meltdown over what to do with myself, and my husband’s almost tactful suggestion that I get a life, I turned to the YMCA for refuge.  Regular exercise is one of those activities that previously fell into my “Something I’ll Do When I Retire” category.  I’m finding many of those pursuits were not ignored solely due to lack of time.  They are still not appealing now that I have time.  Exercise classes at the YMCA, however, have proven to be a godsend.

Every weekday morning I now spring out of bed, excited about walking the short block to the YMCA.   I comb the schedule and try a variety of classes.   Before retiring, I was never able to make it to classes after work so I was thrilled to try some. Admittedly, I got off to a rough start with my first exercise class, on a Monday morning, called Body Works.  The class description read “The ultimate muscular challenge. This class uses hand held weights, bands, step, body bars, and resistance balls. The focus is muscle strength, endurance and body definition by using proper alignment.”  Now, at one point in my life I was an aerobics junkie, which I credit with getting me through the summer of my Bar Exam.  Obliviously assuming I have the same stamina and abilities I had in my twenties and remembering my doctor’s suggestion that I incorporate weight training in my regimen, I decided this class would be perfect.

For the livelier exercise classes, the room is brimming with mostly female energy

The Body Works class – a room full of women and barbells

The class was not perfect. It started off well enough. The room was full of women, several I knew from around town, and bustling with vivacity.  I was absurdly giddy to be out of the house, surrounded by females and the loud beat of music.  For the first 10 minutes, I jumped and hopped and lunged and ran in place with the best of them. But it soon became clear I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was gasping for air.  As the class progressed, I felt like I was going to die. I decided to dial back and go at my own pace.  I replaced jumps with toe taps and lunges with baby steps. Fortunately for my ego, there was an 80-year-old woman (who I think wandered into the class by mistake) that was having more trouble than me.  If nothing else, it was a class in humility.

Next I checked out Yoga.  I’d never done yoga, which was another thing on my Retirement List. So that Tuesday I decided on the Yoga Stretch class – mainly since, after my class in humility, it had an “E” for “Easy” next to the title. The class description read “Emphasizes physical and mental relaxation, controlled breathing, balance, proper posture and alignment and flexibility. Develop a keen sense of body/mind awareness.”  Great!  It was certainly easier than that damn Body Works class, but it was still challenging to achieve and hold the poses, particularly since I am one of the least flexible people on the planet.  But, after just one class, I could feel improvement in my joints, posture and relaxation.

My set-up for Gentle Yoga class at the Y.  Ninety minutes of bliss.

My set-up for Gentle Yoga class at the Y. Ninety minutes of bliss.

Then I tried Gentle Yoga  (“Focus on releasing tight muscles, increasing range of motion and stress relief”) with an instructor named Diane.   OMG!!!!  It was an hour and a half class, which flew by, of pure bliss and when it was over, I felt like I’d had a spa weekend.  It was divine – Diane’s soothing voice, the focus on breathing, the gentle stretching and poses, aromatherapy with lavender oil, culminating in an extended time of relaxation and mediation.  The worst part was when Diane said it was time to get up and leave.

I also tried two Zumba classes.  One was a regular Zumba class and the other Zumba Gold, which is supposedly lower intensity. The class description read “Zumba fused hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy to follow moves to create a cardio experience that is exhilarating and energizing.”  The description I would’ve written was, “Impossible to follow moves, requiring too much hips and swiveling and coordination, excessive jumping around and a cardio experience that was alarming and exhausting.” I’m certain my heart rate reached 300 and at one point I glanced around for a defibrillator.  I knew I was in trouble when I noticed women wearing Zumba belts, which are apparently designed to accentuate all that hip swiveling.  The Gold class was less jumping around, but had more complicated dance moves, and I wondered how the Zumba instructor was able to watch me without laughing.  I was that clumsy aging celebrity who is the first to go on Dancing with the Stars.

When I saw the Zumba belts I knew I was in trouble

When I saw the Zumba belts I knew I was in trouble

I have since stayed with the Body Works class on Mondays.  I’m determined to get better, and this week I kicked butt the first 20 minutes, which gave me a false sense of competence. Then the [drill] instructor barked orders to go from plank position to standing to plank position to standing, over and over, until I saw stars and heard birdies. I literally came within a resistance ball of passing out in the middle of the class.  The first week I learned humility.  This week I learned to eat breakfast before class and not show off.

What I have really fallen for is yoga.  After I get through Monday and the damn Body Works class, I love, love, love going to my yoga classes.  Yoga relaxes me, helps with my stress level, posture and flexibility.  It feels so much kinder to my body and psyche than the faster aerobic-style classes.   The meditation included gets me centered and calm. I really wish I had discovered yoga when I was working!

The YMCA provides a welcome haven brimming with positive energy.  My exercise classes give me incentive to get up and go, get me off to a good start and they impart structure to my day.  They offer a social experience where I see friends from the community and I’m meeting new ones.  Most importantly, I notice my higher energy levels, improved disposition and a decrease in various aches and pains.  I feel better, both physically and mentally.  I leave the YMCA after one of my workouts and I’m ready to take on the world. Interestingly, my husband has taken my lead and he is back at the YMCA, too.  He even came to a Gentle Yoga class with me.  Why didn’t I do this before?  When I REALLY had stress in my life?