I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Choosing a new home

Last night I had a dream about my son Chris. Since it's been a while since I woke, I don't remember the particulars, but I know he was a teenager in my dream, and he was happy. Having spent so many years as a mom, I still feel like one. You can't stop being a parent just because your children have died before you.

In 2006, I had been working for almost three decades at NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and my duties for the past decade had taken me all over the world to arrange conferences and write reports after I returned to Boulder. This, plus my weekend activities at the Drop Zone, gave me a very full life. In fact, too full. I was getting tired as I approached my 64th birthday. Because I needed to reach Medicare age before I could retire, I was looking forward to turning 65.

Smart Guy and I began to think about our options. What did we want to do with our retirement years? He was already out of the work force and on Social Security, and I would be able to convert my TIAA/CREF annuities that I had been contributing to during my time at NCAR into a small monthly income. That, plus our two Social Security checks, would be what we would use to live on for the rest of our lives. That amount looked to be sufficient if we didn't have any huge expenses. It would not be enough to go on cruises and live extravagantly, but that isn't what we were looking for anyway.

In the summer of 2006, after having decided we wanted to live somewhere on the West Coast, we took a month-long car trip to Washington state. We looked at communities up and down the coast, and even gave a little thought to living across the border in Canada, but we found a small town situated 20 miles south of the Canadian border and 85 miles north of Seattle: Bellingham. The proximity to Vancouver and Seattle is important, but we didn't want to live in a big city. This town seemed to be the right size, a good jumping-off place.

The only real problem with the town, to me, is a major freeway passing north and south through the middle of town, I-5, which stretches from the Canadian border all the way to southern California. It gets a lot of traffic, and finding a place away from the white noise of traffic has been difficult. That aside, it has a great bus system, which is incredibly inexpensive for seniors ($35 for a three-month pass giving you unlimited rides throughout the entire county).

When we got back from our trip, I gave my boss a year's notice, telling him that I would be leaving at the end of March 2008. Hopefully I would be able to hire my replacement during that period. This also gave us enough time to figure out what we wanted to take and what to leave behind. Two paid-for Hondas would go with us, a little furniture, not much, and that was it.

In February 2008, Smart Guy set out with a few things packed into his Honda and drove to Bellingham. We talked on the phone daily, and we used our iChat feature on our laptops to video conference with each other, and he found a nice apartment within our price range and moved in on March 1, 2008. He lived there alone for a month while I finished up at NCAR, with a nice retirement party, and my boss Mickey gave me one at his house, where my women's group and private friends gathered to say goodbye to me. I did think I would return one day, but as of today I still haven't.

Smart Guy flew back to Boulder, we packed up my car and a medium-sized U-Haul truck, and I said goodbye to my chosen home of more than three decades, to find a new life in retirement. We had our cellphones, which worked well to talk to each other on the road and coordinate pit stops. On April 17, 2008, we drove up to our new place here in Bellingham, moved in our furniture, and started a new life.

What to do with myself? No job, no responsibilities, and no friends or family nearby. My own siblings all live in different places, but the majority of them live in Texas, which was never a place I wanted to retire in: too hot, too flat, and too conservative for this old hippie.

The first thing I did was join the YMCA. Bellingham has a great one, with exercise classes of all kinds every day, a sauna and steam bath for after the workout. I got a locker and moved in my exercise stuff, and started taking the bus to town each morning to attend a 9:00am class. Since the bus schedule brought me to town a little after 8:00am, I began hanging out at a local coffee shop for my morning latte. This is where the core of my new friends are: people who ride the bus with me every day, regulars at the gym, and regulars at the coffee shop. I also joined the Senior Center and began Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. I've been learning about the area through these hikes, and I've also made some great friends. In the summer we head to the high country, and in the winter we stay close to town. We head out, rain or shine.

And almost exactly a year ago now, I started a blog. This activity has filled a great void in my life for creative writing. A few months ago I began this second blog, which I think of as the Eye blog (or in Mac speak, iBlog), giving me a place to write down and ruminate about how I got here, and where I want to go. I've written 15 posts to get to the present time, writing down the most difficult and wrenching events that have made me who I am today.

From here, I'm not sure where to go with this blog, but I suspect it will come to me before next Sunday. Writing in here in the early morning hours before I get out of bed has become a satisfying ritual. Once I've banged out the first draft, I re-read and edit it until I'm happy with it.

Then I hit "publish" and ponder what my life is all about.


Leave a Legacy said...

Oh DJ, You are such a wonderful writer. You allow me to draw mental images of you riding the bus, drinking your coffee, hiking and sitting in your bed on Sunday mornings writing about it all. I wish we lived closer so we could meet. Your life is definitely about good, wisdom, truth, and experience. And your present and future sounds very good to me. Can't wait to hear about it as you move ahead.

The Retired One said...

A great review of how you got to retirement, I didn't know that about you yet, so I found it very interesting.
I am so glad you are liking retirement!
I was blessed to be able to retire earlier (at 55 1/2 and my husband got an "early out" as a State of Michigan retiree at 52). We haven't regretted it yet! We keep busy and socially connected and luckily, both of our health status's have remained good!

CiCi said...

Very wise move, yes to Bellingham, but once you got there you got busy and active and met people. I can see that is good for you. The way you write, you lead the reader from one step to the next and share your deepest experiences with us. I feel like it is a privilege to have found this blog and to share your life stories.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You could talk about how you felt about retirement, although I'm guessing you didn't have much trouble adjusting!

Lucy said...

Small towns are awesome. We always tell people that as long as we are within the village limits, we are home and only someone who lives in a small community get that!

Stella Jones said...

I enjoyed reading your latest post. I can picture you taking to retirement. It's a big jump though and not so easy to make as you told it, I'm sure. I feel like surprising you one day, in the coffee shop, over your latte. I'd sit down near and say...'mine's a tea please, without sugar!' how about that? Actually it made me think about experiencing someone else's life a little, doing what they do and they doing what I do. Do you think about those things sometimes?
Blessings, Star

Jo said...

"Then I hit "publish" and ponder what my life is all about." That's pretty much the same for all of us in the blogosphere.

And ... there is no such thing as retirement. There is only another exciting phase of life. I know people in their 30s and 40s who are old...

Bellingham is a wonderful spot -- one of my favorite places.

gayle said...

The more you write and the more I learn about you the more I admire you!! You are a very brave lady!! I want to retire so bad but I am afraid...and look what you did!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Fifteen entries is not nearly enough..you are doing great..I think you hit the high spots and the low spots..I think it is cathartic for you to write. I think you must write..Think of it this way..this is your room and we are just guests you allow to visit. You enjoy your writing on Sundays..we enjoy reading..oh ya I am always late in the week..but I get here eventually and I am always glad I came:)

Whitney Lee said...

This is a much more lighthearted post. It's like the person you describe in all the previous posts has been living her life constantly underneath a rain cloud and in this post you can see that the cloud has lifted and the sun has come out.

Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I am certain that you will figure out what to write before Sunday. I know that a great deal of your past was glossed over, but perhaps you aren't interested in writing any more about the more painful periods. Perhaps what you've written thus far has served it's purpose and you are ready to move in that new direction. I'll be curious come Sunday!

CrazyCris said...

I'm thinking when you mentioned your blog over at my place you were probably referring to the other one (since this layout isn't at all like mine, lol!), but this one was first up on your profile... so here I am!

And can I say: Bravo! Moving to a new place to retire (and not the sunny south at that), meeting new people (which is never easy even through work), finding activities... and this blog which seems like a fascinating idea!

Now I'm off to continue reading for a bit and then check out your other place.


Linda Reeder said...

Bellingham was a good choice, a college town but also a mecca for retirees who want to be active, and liberal!
Through all of your trials you have become a very resourceful person. It didn't take you long to get settled.