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.

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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