Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Time for Reinventing Oneself

I'm now in my third month of retirement and gradually adjusting to the differences in day-to-day life. While I was still working, I assumed that I would still get up at 5 a.m. every morning. Ha! I now totally resent any morning appointments that require the setting of the alarm clock! This morning, I was awake and reading magazines on the iPad between 3 a.m. - 6 a.m. So it was nice to be able to doze off again and not get up until 8 a.m.

I've discovered that the block of time between 9 a.m. - 10 a.m. works best for errands and grocery shopping. Wait until 11 a.m. and the stores are a bit more crowded. But the local police are certainly on duty. Last week I was stopped for speeding while doing my long list of errands (clearly, I must have been in a hurry!), and fortunately, I received only a warning. This hasn't happened in a very, very long time.

The month of March was a bit of a bummer as I had a medical issue to deal with. Nothing serious, but I was clearly not myself for about five weeks. Being lethargic and doing nothing wasn't really the way I wanted to kick off my retirement. But - perhaps that was the universe's message to me to slow down a bit, take life easy and enjoy what retirement has to offer. It's nice to be able to get medical appointments scheduled much sooner than during the days when I had to work around my professional commitments.

I'm glad to be active with my local genealogy society. It's strictly volunteer work, but the activities give me the stability of a job and being around people. And following my passion. When working, I used to joke that "my job keeps getting in the way of my career." Not so any more. I've been teaching some classes and last Sunday I had a table at the Seniors Chautauqua sponsored by the 55+ Seniors Paper. I did surname searches for participants and I had a ball listening to their stories about their family history.

The funniest thing that happened was when one woman said to me, "You're famous in genealogy!" I never thought of it that way at all. But the farther removed I get from the person who worked for 42 years, the more I embrace who I am becoming now. I'm becoming more comfortable in seeing myself as that genealogist, writer and speaker. Before, my life was much more compartmentalized. Now I get to be myself all the time. Reinvention? Perhaps. Or maybe just rediscovering the person who was there all along.

Either way, I love the freedom of retirement. And it's time to go pick up the Birkenstocks that I had to have resoled.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wintertime Retirement

For many years, I couldn't figure out why so many people in my workplace chose to select December or January as their retirement dates. There were definitely some tax considerations involved, but I thought "why would anyone want to retire in the winter!"

I'm definitely seeing the advantages of that choice this winter. We've had two major snowfalls since I retired six weeks ago. How nice it has been to remain indoors, have another cup of coffee and really not be concerned if the snow removal crew gets our driveway cleaned by a specific hour or not. And the best part is that I don't have to be out on the streets to drive to a job. Then, once there, wondering if I will have a safe trip home. On the day following both snowfalls, I had appointments scheduled. How nice it was to be able to call in and reschedule for a different day.

Daylight savings time went into effect yesterday. I've always been a fan of what I refer to as Sun Time. Even with the seven inches of snow outside, last evening it was so nice to still have some daylight remaining for an hour after dinner. That's certainly a sign of Spring.

I'm guessing that my alarm clock only woke me up on workdays once or twice in the past 10 years. I was always awake hours before the designated time. And I never, ever thought I'd be someone to "sleep in." But after six weeks of not being tied to a schedule, it is so nice to be able to sleep until my body says it's time to get up. I'm gradually making the adjustment to having adequate sleep. It's a nice change from sleep deprivation.

It's also nice to enjoy my Sunday afternoons and evenings without the pre-Monday jitters. The tension about having to go back to work on Monday usually kicked in no later than one or two o'clock on Sunday afternoon. It was extremely difficult for me to continue going in to a job that I didn't like for so many years. I thought that was the price I had to pay for steady income, a retirement plan and health insurance. It may have been a high price to pay, but it was the path I chose. And now that I'm out of the workplace, I certainly don't regret it. I'm a survivor.

I laughed to myself when I received emails from my clients during my last weeks of working and so many wrote things like "It's so obvious you love your job." Well, folks, hand me the Academy Award! At least I was glad that the clients didn't see the agony I experienced on a daily basis, feeling trapped in an emotional jail from which I never thought I would escape. I'm so much happier now with that behind me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weathering the Storm That Wasn't

Q Storm and Chris Botti

As of this morning, the "Q" Storm that was to have dropped up to 12" of snow in my city fell short with only three inches accumulation. As a newly retired person, it was still reassuring to know that I would not have to travel the slick and icy roads to get to a job. I could stay safely indoors, checking weather updates on various local news apps and occasionally tuning in to The Weather Channel which was broadcasting from 10th and "Q" Streets in Lincoln.

I had to make a decision about whether or not I would attend the Chris Botti concert at the Lied Center Thursday evening. I originally saw him perform in Sting's band in Des Moines nine years ago and met him at intermission. Yeah, I was smitten and have bought all of his CDs. In 2006, I missed his winter concert in Omaha due to bad weather conditions. Chalk up another one to that list. While I may have been able to negotiate the snow covered streets to get to the venue, I had less confidence in my ability to not slip and fall on the street. Friends will confirm that I sometimes have difficulty remaining upright even on a dry sidewalk! This is apparently a gene I inherited from my maternal grandmother, whom I've been told used to say, "Wait! I'm going to fall down!"

The snowfall resumed about 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon and that confirmed my decision. I would miss Chris Botti yet another time due to weather conditions. I read online that he and his essential bandmates were traveling to Lincoln from Des Moines via bus and the smaller show could perform. The remainder of his band was flying in to Omaha and would then get to Lincoln via the Interstate. Apparently, the entourage arrived and in true show business fashion, the show went on. Instead, I still spent the evening with Chris Botti, listening to several of his CDs. From what I read in the newspaper, the concert venue was only half full, with other patrons making the same option I did and playing it safe. I've missed many concerts over the years and have never second guessed or regretted the decision.

Medicine, Medicare and Mayhem

Last year, my father's company decided to eliminate the health care benefits it had previously provided for retirees and we had the daunting task of choosing his Medicare supplement and drug insurance. In the eight years that I've been his caregiver, I've looked at dealing with his insurance and health care issues as a dress rehearsal for what I may face once I turn 65. So this is my schooling in Medicare and insurance for seniors.

After not receiving six of his prescriptions via mail order 10 days after his doctor placed the order, I started making phone calls. At least each person I spoke with seemed knowledgeable and was cordial. Unfortunately, they had to keep transferring me to a different department as the hierarchy of our issues started to get more complex. At least after a half an hour of calls, it was confirmed that his order was being processed.

Thursday evening, a representative of the pharmacy called to confirm the order and get a credit card number. He informed me that the copay was well over $1,000. As I put down the phone to talk with Dad, the rep heard me exclaim quite loudly, "Holy Shit! Your copay is over $1,000!"

By the time I picked up the other telephone extension, I heard the clicking of computer keys on the other line. The representative said, "I heard your reaction, so I'm double checking your order. The price I gave you was full retail, they haven't billed it to insurance yet." Whew. The total started to decrease until it was less than $300. That's still a hefty sum and that isn't even the full array of his medications. The same fellow called again the next morning to confirm shipment. I wrote down his name so in case I need to visit with someone who can get things done, I have the name of someone who is very helpful.

Dad and I both wonder how other elderly people manage all of the medical bureaucracy. He says that he could no longer deal with it by himself. I view myself as fairly intelligent and I have trouble untangling and understanding it all. And I'm concerned about my own ability to deal with these issues for myself twenty years down the line. I do have a health care power of attorney, but she's only 13 years younger than I am. I'm hoping she'll outlive me and will be there if I need her. It's something that every senior needs to plan for.


Much of my time as a retiree focuses on genealogy - researching my own family history, volunteering for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society (LLCGS) and teaching classes and giving lectures on genealogy. This was another whirlwind week, with two more speaking engagements added to my calendar, a society board meeting and keeping the LLCGS Facebook and Twitter feeds active.

The most fulfilling activity of the week started when I saw a post come through on Facebook from KMTV in Omaha. It was about a group from the Bellevue Cemetery Committee who is trying to locate living relatives of seven Civil War veterans so tombstones can be placed on their graves at Bellevue Cemetery. I shared the link on Facebook and a lengthy conversation ensued - with my other Facebook friends (I know them in "real life" too!) wanting to help move the project along.

To get the Bellevue group included in our discussion, we moved our project to the Nebraska Genea-Peeps Facebook group, an online community that I created a year or so ago. Things took off like crazy as a core group of genealogy volunteers started searching our various subscription sites, census records,, FindAGrave - you name it. We posted our findings, shared documents we located online, put our heads together for problem solving. By the end of the day, solid leads were found on living relatives for several of the veterans.

The woman who was interviewed on KMTV commented that we did in two hours what had taken her two months. A representative from the Sarpy County Museum is also participating in our quest and helping fill in a few details. Of course, the soldier who I "adopted" is being quite elusive! But on Thursday afternoon, I discovered 14 pages of his Civil War service records. His enlistment record showed the location of his birth which led me to find him in the 1850 census. There are some new clues to follow and I will keep on looking for his family.

Now that we have made so much progress in only a few days, we are all looking forward to being present for the ceremony when the headstones are placed on the graves in a few months. It is so exciting to me that we can have such a purpose-driven online collaboration that produces results in a short amount of time. And it's helping to honor these Civil War veterans who have had no tombstone to mark their graves. This type of collaboration is what I love about the internet and what I love about genealogists!

I'm now three weeks into my retirement life and still loving every minute!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Taking Time for Guilt Free Reading

Before I retired, I told myself that my first two weeks of retirement life would be low-key, guilt-free time just to get used to not getting up and going to a job every day. Those two weeks have passed very quickly and I've kept my commitment to myself.

The first two weeks have been a time to relax, something that I haven't done in many, many years. It's been nice to spend time listening to a couple audio books without thinking that I should be doing something else. After all, isn't retirement the gift to myself to read (or listen to) the many books I've been saving up? One thing that's nice about e-books - they don't take up the space that hard cover books do! So my obsession with accumulating books isn't so apparent to the outside world when hundreds of books in my e-collection are tucked away nicely on my Kindle and iPad.

I tend to prefer nonfiction to fiction, but I've discovered so many free e-books for the Kindle, that I never hesitate to download any free novel that sounds remotely interesting. One that I started several months ago was about Elvis - who isn't really dead but who is alive and working as a private detective. That one was pretty weird - maybe I should go back and finish reading it now.

I enjoyed reading the early Scarpetta mysteries by Patricia Cornwell. A few months ago, I started reading one of the more recent books in the series. Since I had missed a few of the books, I found that I couldn't proceed because there were references to different things that had happened to the recurring characters and their relationship with Kay Scarpetta, that I could no longer continue. One of my presents to myself last fall was to buy the entire series of Scarpetta novels for my Kindle. And I've started reading them from the beginning. It's nice to get reacquainted with the characters I first met well over 15 years ago. It's nice to have guilt-free time to read fiction.

Since I no longer have 45 minutes drive-time every day, I've had to create some time to listen to my audio books. I love biographies - especially when narrated by the author. I've just finished listening to the autobiography of singer-songwriter Carole King, which I enjoyed tremendously. I've now started A. E. Hotchner's biography of his life long friend, Paul Newman. I tell myself that I can now substitute walking on the treadmill for the 45 minute commuting time so that I can listen to my audio books. That worked one day so far - and only for 15 minutes. That's a commitment that I still need to work on. Combine something I love (books) with something I don't love (walking on the treadmill). It will be much better as Spring approaches and I can walk outdoors. Yes, I'm a fair weather walker.

Since my first two weeks have drawn to a close, now it's time to tackle some of those items on the "to do" list - the organizing, decluttering, shredding - all of the things I've procrastinated about as I was "saving them for retirement." Reality is now here. But I don't think I'll even try to do it all at once. After all, there's always tomorrow.

copyright 2013 Susan M Petersen

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Search of the Ultimate Philly

Retirement life means taking a little bit more time for meal preparation. And for me, probably learning a few more dishes to add to my cooking repertoire. 

For many years, I've been searching for the Ultimate Philly Sandwich in Nebraska. Any time I visit a new restaurant, that's usually what I try first. But I have to make one adjustment: no green peppers. Sorry, they just don't set well with me. Red peppers are fine, thank you very much.

Folks from Back East will be the first to point out that what we Midwesterners consider a Philly sandwich is not a true Philly. Technically, I suppose ours would be called Cheesesteak Sandwiches. Whatever. To me, it's a Philly.

Sooz's Nebraska Cheesesteak Sandwich
Not Just Another Philly
There are a few local restaurants where I can recommend the Philly. The Nebraska based chain, Pepperjax Grill, makes a good one. I recommend ordering the seasoning "light" as it's a bit too salty otherwise. Lansky's in Omaha produces another excellent sandwich, as does Brewsky's. Jimmy C's Homestyle Restaurant in Omaha also makes a good Philly.

As good as these are, some are missing the extra zing I'm looking for. In recent years, I've been working on perfecting my own version of the Philly and my latest creation tops any Philly that I've had in a restaurant.

The key is butter. Not margarine. Real butter. Here's how I do it:

Melt about 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in saucepan.

When melted, add 1/2 onion, thinly sliced. Sautee until onions are soft.

Add 4 oz. canned mushrooms, drained. Continue sauteeing with the onions. The next time I make these, this is the step where I will add 1/4 of a red pepper, thinly sliced.

Move all ingredients to one side of the saucepan. On the empty side of the saucepan, add one patty of frozen Farmland shredded beef. I suppose you could try Pepperjax's new Grill At Home meat, now available in grocery stores. Chop and separate beef until it is fully cooked. Sprinkle some of Famous Dave's Steak Burger Seasoning over all ingredients. Not too much.

Mix all ingredients together, lining everything up lengthwise in the middle of the pan.

On the top of the ingredients, place three slices of provolone cheese. Allow to melt, partially.

Slice a hoagie bun from top to bottom (not sideways like a hot dog bun). Spread open. Place over the ingredients in the saucepan.

With a spatula, place all of the ingredients onto the bun. Pictured is a 4 oz. whole wheat bun. It's a bit much, so you can probably use a smaller hoagie bun. As shown, this is huge, so cut it in half and share with a friend.

Voila! You have Sooz's Nebraska Cheesesteak Sandwich (not just another Philly).


Saturday, February 9, 2013

On Weekday Shopping, Senior Discount and Dodge Em Cars

The first full week of my retirement life is now behind me. One thing I've learned is that the days slip by so much faster than when I was working!

The first few days of retirement were quite busy since I had scheduled a presentation for my local genealogy society last Sunday. So I spent the first days of retirement finishing up the slides and handout. We had a great turnout and as a result, I learned how to use the Slideshare web site to upload slide shows and documents.

Monday was my first weekday grocery shopping experience as a retiree. My goodness, I got a parking space right by the entrance. THAT never happens! The store was nearly barren of customers, which was definitely to my liking. A couple guys were stocking the frozen processed meats cooler and I happened to spot chicken fried steak (Dad's favorite), which I had never been able to find in this store before. So I asked them where I could usually find this product. One of the men explained that this was the location where it's always stocked, but that sometimes customers move things around, so you need to look behind some of the other products to find it. And he kept on chatting. Employees NEVER chatted when I went there on weekends or after work.

As I roamed through the store, the manager and other employees I encountered all spoke and asked me if I was finding what I needed. This NEVER happened when I went there on weekends or after work. Maybe shopping for groceries is no longer going to be a task that I loathe!

Sadly, the sacker still put leaf lettuce and eggs in the bottom of the grocery bag, with much heavier items on top. I've ranted about this on another blog, so I won't repeat myself here. There's a couple checkers and sackers who I know will do a better job than others and I will usually wait in a longer line if they are working. But I wasn't that fortunate on Monday.

Even so, it was VERY nice to navigate the store without it being crammed full of other customers. I'm pretty sure I can get used to that.

Wednesday was Senior Discount Day at ShopKo. I've been shopping on Senior Discount Day ever since I was eligible at age 55. But going to the store mid-morning was an entirely different experience than it had ever been when I stopped in after work. The ONLY shoppers in the store were Seniors! And it seemed like they all knew one another. This clearly appeared to be an event that my fellow Seniors embrace every month.

Unfortunately, the 15% discount offered on Senior Day does not apply to the two departments I shop in most: household supplies and electronics. Even so, I picked up the paper supplies needed and tossed a few more items in my cart. When I reached the checkout, I remembered that I had forgotten my $10 off $50 purchase coupon. The checker told me that I couldn't have used it with my Senior Discount anyway. She then proceeded to go into great detail about how I COULD use the coupon, buy more items, bring in today's receipt showing the items that weren't eligible for Senior Discount, go to customer service and if my purchases hit the $50 mark, I'd get the $10 off. Never, in all the years that I've shopped at this store, has a checker taken so much time to talk and explain something. And there were several more people behind me in line. I complimented her on being "very informative."

The parking lot, however, was like driving in the old Dodge Em cars at the State Fair when I was a kid. The Senior drivers weren't really paying a lot of attention which direction they were driving and seemed to ignore whatever was in their way. Not that I'm stereotyping older drivers, mind you! Well, perhaps.

When I returned to my car, the driver who parked to the left of my car had left only about five inches between our vehicles, so there was no way I could enter from the driver's side. I went to the passenger side, lifted up the arm rest, moved my other stuff around and did my best to scoot over to the driver's side. Thank goodness I don't have a floor shift! Note to self: next time, remember to park even farther away from other vehicles in the parking lot.

Thursday was lunch with a friend. Clearly, I'm already losing brain cells as I didn't turn on the street where I should have and I hesitated a little too long at a green light before moving on. I don't recall ever being so unfocused! I must have caught something at ShopKo the day before. Is Senioritis a viral infection? Or maybe it was because I hadn't gotten to sleep until 4 a.m. thanks to the Starbucks frappucino I had at 8 p.m. the previous night. I told my friend it was perfectly fine for her to be a backseat driver that day. Note to self: no caffeine drinks after 12 noon.

Clearly, I haven't quite found the "new normal" yet. But I think I'm going to enjoy looking.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Goodbye Girl

My last week of work was a week of goodbyes. It was rather bittersweet, because even though we say "stay in touch," I know that this week was probably the last time I will see many of the people from my work life. On the other hand, there is a solid core group of friends who I know will still be a part of my life forever.

Is it possible that the very last day of my working life was the best day of my working life? It sure seemed like it. Some of you may remember the old television show hosted by Ralph Edwards called This is Your Life. That's pretty much how my day went.

I had already taken charge of the plans for retirement festivities at work - because I wanted to have the kind of day that I wanted it to be - not someone else's idea of what it should be. There would be no speeches, no formal presentations. I just wanted some time to say goodbye and for colleagues to stop in and chat a few minutes about our shared memories.

For the last two or three weeks, I had gathered up old photographs of people I'd worked with, traveled with and partied with over the past 40 years. I had to borrow a few more photos from coworkers to fill in a few blanks for the retrospective slide show. There were literally hundreds of photographs. This was no surprise to me because most of the group of friends I have socialized with over the years have been people I've met through my job. So, in addition to "water cooler photos" taken at the office, there were photos of us on weekend outings, golf outings, holiday celebrations, road trips, weddings - you name it. Sadly, far too many of the people have passed on and I marked their photos with "RIP." Two of them passed during the time I was working on the slide show.

I had fun assembling the slide show and it gave me an opportunity to learn the Keynote slide show app on the iPad. I knew that the slide show had to be portable and this worked out great. The slide show was definitely NOT an ego-based tribute to me. Heavens no! It was a tribute to the many good people who weaved in and out of my life over the past 40 years - some staying a little longer than others. And it provided a memory of the good times we had shared.

For the old timers, it was a trip down memory lane. The new people in the office got to see why some of us have a close bond from our shared experiences. And they got to see us when we were thinner or fatter, blonde or brunette, athletic or frumpy. We've been through it all.

Once the cake arrived and the punch was mixed, people showed up with cameras. I posed with my cake, my flowers (thank you, Lisa!), and my plaque. Then I posed with our original group of four who have been together for 27 years. Then I posed with the Finance department, then with those from our current staff who were available. There were so many photos being taken, I quipped that I felt like I was Lindsay Lohan!

Once the cake was cut, I made sure I had some set aside to bring home to share with my 86 year old Dad. I've been his caregiver for the past eight and a half years and he is as pleased as punch that he'll have some company during the day now.

After the initial serving of the cake, I retreated to my office and friends and colleagues from around the agency dropped by to chat a few minutes and to say goodbye. Even one of my genealogy friends who works across the street stopped in for a while.

Forget trying to wrap up those last few emails and last bits of correspondence. That wouldn't come until later in the afternoon.

During the day, the song playing in my head was Shania Twain's Today is Your Day. If you've ever listened to the lyrics, you'll understand why I think this will be the theme song for my retirement years. Already, I had moved on from Johnny Paycheck's Take This Job and Shove It!

I slipped off for a nice lunch with Lisa and Jane at El Potrero. This was another bittersweet moment - my last lunch break with good friends. But - it's knowing that we all know we will continue to be in touch with one another. There are still a lot more lunches for us to share together.

As the afternoon waned, I wrapped up the last few bits of bureaucratic paperwork. As the time drew near, I checked the countdown app on my iPhone, watching it go from 10 seconds to 1 second to Zero. It was definitely a much more exciting countdown than watching the Times Square ball drop on New Year's Eve. It was a good thing that I had already removed my few personal belongings because I still had a lot to carry with the beautiful yellow roses and cards. I was headed out the door when Jane noticed I hadn't taken the big heavy sweater I kept around for the days when the offices were cold.

Then, officially retired, I moved on to my "real" retirement celebration - a gathering of friends and colleagues from over the years who met me at our traditional watering hole - Tico's. Many an evening had been spent there, hashing out our frustrations from work, complaining about our bad bosses and difficult coworkers and just having fun. It was our version of Cheers, so it was an appropriate place to say goodbye.

Several of the folks who I hadn't seen during the day joined me at Tico's, as did a couple clients I'd become friends with over the years. We pretty much filled the entire bar. A special treat was a visit from my friend, Curt, who I've known since the late 1970s. We had worked on a documentary film together and still laugh about the business trip we made to Columbus, Ohio right before Christmas one year. We traveled all that way for a training seminar that was conducted by someone we knew from Lincoln! Curt and his partner made the two-hour drive from Grand Island for the party, so it really meant a lot to me that they were there to help me celebrate.

More photographs were taken, many of which I haven't even seen yet. As people drifted off and left the festivities, there were the strongest and longest bear hugs I think I've ever given or received. These really were "my" people. Many of us made promises to stay in touch, have lunch and email addresses were exchanged. And I really think that I'll be seeing some of these folks again. I hope so.

You got what it takes, you can win.
Today is your day to begin.
Don't give up, don't you quit.
The moment is now, this is it.

Today is your day and nothing can stand in your way.
Today is your day and everything's going your way.

-- Shania Twain

copyright 2013 Susan M Petersen
The address for this post is:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Empty Desk and Being Blessed

The final week of my work life has arrived. There are only four work days left and I will be working offsite through Wednesday, with my last day of work on Thursday.

That means that I had the arduous task of emptying my desk and packing up my personal belongings to bring home.

There was the stash of birthday cards, thank you notes and newspaper clippings accumulated over the years. I didn't take the time to look through them - that's something that can be done later.

There was my stash of the supermarket rag "News of the World" which I bought to entertain a coworker and myself on long road trips. It was cheap entertainment with articles such as "George Washington was a woman!" It was followed a few months later by "Abraham Lincoln was a woman and John Wilkes Booth was his jilted lover!" It was nearly verbatim to the George Washington article - I think the author just used the F2 key, Find and Replace, and put a bit of a new spin on the story. And there was an all time favorite issue about Bill Clinton getting into a fight with Hillary's Alien Lover, P'Lod. Hillary even talked about that one with Jay Leno. I had to leave that collection behind with my coworker.

There was the Howie Mandel "mask" we used at a training workshop where one of our learning activities was a parody of "Deal or No Deal." It's true - I had no problem making a fool of myself to try to entertain an audience of people who were required to attend, rather than wanting to attend. What a difference it is when I speak to genealogy audiences who actually want to be there!

There were notepads from various hotel conferences. Lots of notepads. I have a bit of a reputation for collecting notepads and free pens. Pens are always growing legs and walking off. There's never a pen around when you need one. I gave all of those to one of the secretaries to use to restock the supply cabinet. And I left behind a coffee mug to hold the pens. Because there's never a pen around when you need one.

There was a tin filled with granola bars. Five or six year old granola bars. The tin was the result of a recommendation that we secure any food because mice were getting in the offices and eating it. Refer to my earlier post in which I write about the Pest Management Devices that I see the first thing every morning. Granola bars went in the trash.

There was the drawer that housed the various over the counter medicines and elixirs to treat cough, cold, pain, heartburn, headache and more. There was even a blood pressure cuff.

There were a few service year lapel pins that I never wore. I never cared for them, but I also couldn't throw them away. I had long ago thrown away the various certificates and awards I had received for publications, marketing campaigns and other achievements. A person reaches a point in life when other people's opinions of you don't matter. I didn't need the validation of my accomplishments hanging on an Ego Wall.

There were my two framed Georgia O'Keeffe posters which will make their way to the walls of my home office.

Amazingly, I have not been a pack rat at work. Everything that I packed up to bring home fit in one tote bag. Except the posters, of course. I didn't think that was too bad for working 40 years in the same place.

My years in public service have been rocky. There have been good times and bad times. There have been good bosses and far too many bad bosses. There was one Great boss. He originally hired me in 1972. Over the years, I would be reassigned to other programs, but as long as he was with the agency, he always hired me back.

I was blessed with many professional associations and friendships that have spanned that 40 year period. Hopefully, many of these friends will be around as I celebrate my last work day this Thursday.

I was blessed with many travel opportunities over the years. Meetings and conferences took me to Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; New Orleans, Louisiana; Pierre, South Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; Columbus, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts. I'm sure the list is longer. I was one of those people who never ducked out of meetings to see the sights, so my experiences of most of these places were to restaurants with colleagues in the evenings after the day's work was done. I did tag some vacation days on to a couple trips so at least I got to enjoy Washington, D.C. My Mom accompanied me on the trip and it was a lifelong dream for both of us to visit that city.

Memories of the bad times will soon fade, and in time, I will remember only the good parts of my work life. After all, the bad times have helped build character and given me the tools to deal with just about any situation. Retirement will definitely be much easier. And a lot more fun.

The web address for this post is

copyright 2013 Susan M. Petersen

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In the Home Stretch Toward R-Day

My iPhone is
Tracking the Countdown for me
When I gave my written notice of my plan to retire, R-Day was about 75 or so days into the future. It is now less than two weeks away. In the last few weeks, I've been taking note of many of "the lasts." The last time I will conduct a training workshop. The last time I will work in dangerous neighborhoods in Omaha. The last staff meeting I will attend. The last time that the first thing I see every morning is a rectangular metal box labeled "pest management device." That's government lingo for fancy mouse trap.

Yesterday was another one of those "last times." My colleagues and I had been at a client work site all week conducting a program compliance review. That's government lingo for what is essentially an audit. The staff of the nonprofit organization are people I've known and worked with for 10, 20 and up to 27 years. You get to know people and have shared experiences over that length of time. The review went well even though it's always an exhausting experience for both sides. After concluding the exit report, I decided to take a couple minutes for my personal comments about what working with them had meant to me over the years.

Very much to my surprise, they presented me with an agency mug (filled with candy!) and a card that had been signed by more than 20 of their staff who I've worked with over the past three decades. I was very surprised, as well as humbled, by the gesture. Inside my head, I was having a Sally Field moment of, "They like me! They really like me!" Throughout my working life, it has always been the clients who made the work worthwhile for me. When I read one of the comments, "Thanks for making a difference," I realized that the last 40 years have not been wasted. As a government employee, I've always believed in the idea that I am a public servant.

Time to relax? I hope not!

In the last few weeks, people have made comments to me like Now you get to relax, You'll be able to sleep late, What are you going to do with all of your free time?, You'll find out who the talk show hosts are on afternoon TV. Clearly, these comments come from people who do not know me well! I'm already becoming obsessed with getting as many activities on my retirement calendar as possible! One thing about being a genealogist is that your research is never completely done. There are always documents to transcribe, photographs to scan, ancestor stories to write, and libraries, archives and cemeteries to visit.

In the past year, I've become more involved in my local genealogy society. Tom, our president, made the comment, "Now we'll have a full-time publicity director when you retire!" I'm not so sure I'd take it that far, but I certainly have a commitment to my volunteer hours as a retiree. I also plan to attend more meetings and programs sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development-Lincoln, an activity that has been sorely missing in my life the last couple years. I intend to keep up my skills with various software programs by attending workshops. After all, I'm not going to sit around eating bon bons and watching soap operas all day! Even though I won't be reporting in to a paying job, beginning February 1, I will be CEO of my own life.

Finding the new normal

I've given thought to what the new normal will look like for me, but I'm not about to cast it in stone. Retirement will be a process, just as my working life was. In time, I will make those changes from not having to do chores on weekends, squeezing in errands between the end of the workday and before preparing dinner. I've already got a pretty good handle on the various senior discount days around town. And after lunch with a friend, I will no longer have to lament, "I don't want to go back to work this afternoon" because I won't have to.

As for sleeping late? That's not going to happen. I usually wake up by 4:30 and have always found the time between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m. to be most conducive to my creative process. For me, sleeping late means not getting up until 6 a.m. But who knows? Maybe I'll become the night owl that I was when in college.

Today, January 19, marks the 30th anniversary of my Mom's death. She was only 55. She never had the chance to grow old. She never had the chance to retire. She was the strongest influence in my life and I plan to have this next phase of my life reflect one of her guiding principles - live life to the fullest. I still miss her every day. And I know she would be very happy for me as I enter this next phase.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

40 Years of Memories

In preparation for my last day of employment and what will (hopefully) be a low key informal get-together in my office, I've been putting together a retrospective slide show of photographs from the past 40 years. So why am I doing my own slide show? Ask anyone I work with - it's one of those things that I do best. The other day I was visiting with a former colleague and he reminded me of the slide show I did in the early 1970s about which the program director said, "That's a fantastic slide show. I wish I had a program like that!" I guess maybe I oversold it a bit. By doing my own retirement retrospective, I can put my own spin on it. That PR person inside never goes away.

So, I admit it. When it comes to my day of departure, I am being a micro-manager. I do not want a big reception in a conference room where all of these people who I don't even know show up just because there's free refreshments. I don't want to listen to a bunch of speeches about how wonderful (or how awful) I am. I just want to eat some cake, drink some punch and visit with people I've known and worked with over the years. One of my coworkers and I often say that we've been together longer than most married couples. She and I have known each other about 38 years.

Over the holidays, I began searching through my boxes of photographs, picking out some that were snapped at work, just for no reason. Other photos were to recognize a departing employee, a college degree or a birthday. The far more interesting photos are the ones taken at the after-hours parties. We don't look like we had too much to drink, but we sure look happy!

There are photos from golf outings, Volkswalks, a wedding reception, concerts, business trips and yes, even vacations! One of our secretaries and her husband moved a few hundred miles away and another colleague and I were part of the moving caravan to see them off to their new home. They moved to a small town not far from the cabin I had at Lake McConaughy near Ogallala, Nebraska. We made a weekend out of it. My friend commented on a Facebook photo last week that she remembered laying tile in that cabin! I had forgotten all about it; but yes, that was one of the activities we did that weekend. We also did some water skiing. Not me, I drove the boat. Not very well. We all got sunburned.

As I was captioning the photographs for the slide show, I found I was typing "RIP" on entirely too many of them. There are so many people who have come and gone and passed on. This weekend's newspaper included the obituary of one of the women in my slide show. These losses have made me realize just how precious and short our time is.

Like many workers, I'm one of those who sometimes whines about things that gripe me or about people who aren't working up to my expectations. Don't we all at some point? In my head, I think I had convinced myself that all 40 years were like that. Looking through the photographs, I realize that there were more good times than bad. There were far more good people than bad. It's certainly helping me depart on a much more positive note.

Even as I look at the photos of some of these people who used to irritate me, I can no longer remember what they did to get under my skin. It's a good feeling to know that the memories of more difficult times have faded away.

As I look back and remember all of the people who I've known and worked with over the years, we have been through so much together - marriages and divorces, relationship breakups, the births of children and grandchildren, housewarmings, graduations, illnesses, deaths of our parents, deaths of our pets, and a revolving door of other employees who stayed a while and then moved on. There's quite a few people who have been part of my daily life for three to four decades. That's another reason why I don't want a formal reception. I don't want to cry in public and if anyone says something nice to me that day, it's going to be hard for me to hold back the tears.

copyright 2013 Susan M. Petersen

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Love-Hate Relationship with Walgreen's

I admit it, Walgreen's is probably my favorite store. I'd better qualify that. I do 95 percent of my shopping online, in which case, my favorite store is But there are some things one just has to purchase locally and Walgreen's has become my convenience store. I probably shop there two to three times each week. It doesn't have to be one particular store. I'll stop at whichever Walgreen's is most convenient depending upon my other errands that day.

That's probably part of their marketing strategy. They put those flyers in the newspaper. They send me emails almost daily about the latest offers and discounts. They recently started their balance rewards program where you can earn points that turn into money. Wouldn't it just be better for the consumer if they lowered the prices?. They even gave me an iPhone app as well as an app where I can track my walking progress on Walk With Walgreen's. They sucked me in.

I love the convenience. I love knowing I can get in and out with my items much quicker than at a larger store like Target or ShopKo. I can grab a gallon or two of milk, usually at a price that is significantly lower than at the grocery store. So, most of the time I love Walgreen's.

Then there are the other times. One thing you have to realize about Walgreen's is that if they advertise something as "2 for $5" that's exactly what they mean. You have to buy 2! If you only buy one, it is not $2.50; it's usually $2.99. They also don't always have the prices that are posted on the shelves synched with their cash register. Sometimes I've even snapped a photo of a shelf price with my iPhone in case I need to negotiate at checkout.

Walgreen's recently introduced their Senior Discount Day. I am a huge fan of Senior Discounts wherever I go. As with ShopKo, the Senior Discount Day is timed around the 3rd of the month, when most Social Security deposits are made. I learned that my Social Security deposit will be made on the 27th of each month because there are too many recipients to be able to manage payments in only one payment cycle each month. I digress.

I like to wait for Senior Discount Day for those "stock up and save" items - products used on a regular basis that I like to keep on hand. Why pay full price when I can get 20% off Walgreen's brand items and 15% off most other items in the store? Read the fine print, you won't be getting any discounts on your prescriptions and a few other items. But, for the most part, I'm still going to save money on Senior Discount Day.

This week, I had to purchase a few items, so I waited for Senior Discount Day. I have my Walgreen's Balance Rewards Card synched to my AARP card, which I use to get those valuable rewards points. I've also used the barcode on my iPhone, but believe it or not, some of these young whippersnappers at the register don't know how to scan this from the iPhone!

I dutifully scanned my AARP card; the checker even acknowledged that I was using my AARP card. Then I scanned my credit card. The total amount seemed high and it wasn't until after the transaction was complete that I said, "What happened to my Senior Discount?"

CHECKER: I didn't put it in. You'll have to take everything to Photo as a return and have it rung up again.

ME (Mentally, not aloud): You made a mistake and now you are going to inconvenience ME by making me go to another part of the store, wait in line again to correct the mistake that YOU made?

ME: I'll wait.

The checker then started to ring out the next customer! What!?!? You don't take care of one person at a time? Yeah, this really pissed me off. And apparently I pissed off the next customer because I was standing in front of the credit card reader, standing my ground. Squatter's rights or something like that.

The checker had to call for a manager three times before anyone showed up. I don't think he wanted to do a full return, so he got out a calculator to figure out the discount for each item I purchased. Some were 15% and others were 20%.

CHECKER (now in front of the manager): I didn't put in the Senior Discount because I didn't think you were old enough.

ME (in my head only) Don't think you can get off easy by flattering me.

ME (aloud, without a pause): The AARP card should have been your first clue.

Checker clearly didn't like my response.

ME (to the manager): Don't forget to refund the sales tax.

Eventually, the manager handed me a paper slip indicating a credit to my credit card account. It was about $8. Sure, it was an inconvenience at my convenience store. But I'm stubborn enough to stand my ground. After all, there's a reason why I choose to shop on Senior Discount Day.

I just received my daily email from Walgreen's with a sneak peak at tomorrow's ad. So I have to make out my shopping list.

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copyright 2013 Susan M. Petersen

The Countdown Has Begun

My last day of regular, full-time employment will be January 31, 2013. The other day someone asked me if I had started counting down the days. Without even thinking, my response was, "I started counting them down five years ago."

That's very true. My original plan was to retire at age 55. The economy had a different path in store for me, so I ended up working seven years longer than I had planned. The result is that it's likely I will now have fewer retirement years, requiring less retirement funds than I would have needed had I left the work force at age 55.

I have no intention of being idle in retirement. Writing has been my passion since I was in grade school, whether it be a journal, freelance articles, blogs or throwaway pieces of fiction. There is something about being a career government employee that zaps the creative energy from a person. For the past 40 years, much of my writing has focused on predictable government reports and lengthy correspondence. Oh, there have been spurts of creativity when I wrote and edited brochures and newsletters, or even pieces for the agency web site. Unfortunately, my free time and life's responsibilities left very little time to focus on writing.

So - after 42 years of being gainfully employed, I will soon have a calendar and schedule with a blank slate. But it is not remaining blank for long. At last, I can devote much of my time to doing what is as essential to my existence as breathing - writing.

I've been a blogger since 2003, so I've been able to do some writing for pleasure in the past decade. Now, I owe it to myself to do something with the thoughts and ideas that have been spinning around in my head during long road trips for the job. As I've grown older, I've come to realize that I have a finite amount of time left on this planet. Now that I have the opportunity, it's my plan to turn my retirement into the writing life I've always dreamed about.

My intent for It's A Retirement Life is to share the journey - where ever it may lead. Somedays I may be whimsical; other days satirical; maybe even cynical enough to give the Maxine cartoon a run for her money (I never did know what that meant!). I don't use a lot of flowery prose; that comes from my early training in journalism. But I do hope that I can convey a story that blog readers might relate to during our shared experience of retirement living.

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copyright 2013 Susan M. Petersen