Author Archives: "No Pension, Will Travel!" with Cheryl + Paul

About "No Pension, Will Travel!" with Cheryl + Paul

Our journey to "Free at 55" – traveling the planet without it costing the world.

Transitions

2015 has so far been a most unusual year.

Last Fall, I made a declaration that I would be “retiring” from my employer at year end.

I use “retire” in quotes because I’ve never much liked the word. Heather at Shedders suggested “advancement”, and I much prefer that – but it always requires so much explanation!

Today I’m thinking of it as a Declaration of Self-Actualization: a declaration that I’m no longer going to organize my life around earning money – safety, on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – but instead around expressing creativity, a quest for spiritual enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to contribute.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy, by FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I made this declaration with pained awareness that Cheryl and I had not yet reached our targeted level of financial independence. Being younger than I, and still at the peak of her career, she volunteered to go on working for the time-being. What a woman! That may add to the complexity of my new situation, however.

As I was contemplating how to make the transition from job to no-job, a friend recommended I read “Transitions” by William Bridges. As I had yet to complete the decluttering project begun last Spring, there just happened to be a copy unread on my bookshelves. It spoke to me.

Bridges writes about the need for a three-phase process: Endings, the “Neutral Zone”, and the New Beginning. But it was the Neutral Zone he stressed: a seemingly unproductive “time out”, the most frightening stage of a transition, yet a really important time for reorientation.

“Transitions” by William Bridges

I could sense the value of quiet reflection even as I knew I’d struggle with it at times. Realizing there’d be a pull to fill the time with time-wasters, I made a few rules for my next few months: limit Internet usage – email, social media, and news sites – to four evenings a week; similarly for videos (we’ve never had TV.) At the same time, I pledged to continue my Younger-Next-Year exercise program – at least 45 minutes at least six days a week – as well as Yin yoga weekly. I signed up for a five-evening course in mindful meditation with my son and his girlfriend. I even enrolled in a five-day silent retreat at the end of March.

I also resumed and ramped up our decluttering project, seeing it as a perfect physical metaphor for clearing the mind in the Neutral Zone. And I found it much more challenging that way than I’d expected. Every little trinket seems attached by sticky threads: this one was given by a dear departed relative; this one reminds me of that time in Rio or Venice or Perth; this book reminds me of my thought of returning to the study of architecture some day; that one was meant to be read by my kids when they got older. Eventually, I developed an ability to look at the stuff, thank it for its service, and let it go – mostly to charity stores and the like. In meditation, we learn that, when we have attachment to a thought, we just need to notice it and let it go. Decluttering must be a form of meditation: notice an attachment to something, let it go, notice an attachment, let it go, …

Perhaps unsurprisingly, decluttering seems much easier now than it ever has. Last month I sent off 30 boxes of books to a book sale – some of them had survived over a score of moves from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia and many points in between. I guess my growing detachment from physical things is a sign of approaching elderhood. In “What Are Old People For?”, Dr. Bill Thomas

“What Are Old People For?” by Dr. Bill Thomas

talks about how, after an adulthood centered on Doing and Having, elders return to the earlier childhood emphasis on Being. Sounds like fun to me.

Last week, there was a crisis. I started the week by awaking one morning and, for the first time, strongly feeling that my time was my own. But by the end of the week, I was updating my resume. Whoa! What happened here?

I’d made a promise to Cheryl that I wasn’t going to worry about my lack of salary for the next few months, at least, and here I was breaking it already. We had a serious tête-à-tête, and she re-enrolled me in the wisdom of my original intention. I trashed the proto-resume. There will likely be another one before too long – but it will be for volunteer positions, and much more fun to write.

Now I could really embark on building my retirement, whoops, self-actualization lifestyle. I dusted off my bucket list. I signed up for the mid-week hiking group and an online course on gratitude. I ramped up my efforts to complete my diplomas in Leadership and Conflict Resolution – I’d been working on the latter for over five years, but the goal is now close at hand. I had some of the completion conversations I needed to have about coming to grips with my last job. And I continued to plan some of our trips for this year. With the complexity of our current situation, we decided to defer European travel for a year and concentrate on local trips with our outdoor club this summer: kayaking in the Salish Sea, cycling Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, hiking on Mount Baker, and cycling from Oroville, Washington into British Columbia’s wine valley.

“The One Thing” by Gary Keller

And, ever so tentatively at first, I began to think about that New Beginning. What’s next? (I should have known I couldn’t do nothing for too long.)

To save me from overwhelm, another friend recommended I read “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. “By focusing on your ONE Thing, you can accomplish more by doing less. What’s your ONE Thing?” I’ve found it a good question to live into. It may save me from new mental clutter as I take on those aspects of self-actualization: creativity, enlightenment, learning, and contribution.

What transition are you making?

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Mi Smo Tako Sretni – We Are So Lucky!

It was on the Island of Korčula that two opposing visions began to converge.

While we were cycling in the southern Dalmatian Islands of Croatia, one of our riding companions began to exclaim at every opportunity, “We are so lucky!”

“Why is that?” I asked.

Our transport awaits at Prigradica, Korčula

Our transport awaits at Prigradica, Korčula

“Look at us,” Heather would say. Here we are, riding on this beautiful island on a warm September day. Friends, all in good spirits, surround us. Everywhere we look, there are stunning vistas. We get back to our luxurious yacht for a fine meal, and first we go for a swim in this clear, warm Adriatic ocean. The roads, the villages, and the countryside are so peaceful. Think of all the people who aren’t able to be here and enjoy this right now. “We are so damned lucky!”

While I couldn’t fault Heather’s logic, after hearing this several times a day, it began to grate on me. So I asked one of our guides for a translation into Croatian. “Mi smo tako sretni,” he said. It had a ring to it – once I got the pronunciation right – so I began to prod my shipmates with this from time to time. “Mi smo tako sretni!” The phrase began its work while we began to absorb some of Korčula’s history.

A small-town church on Korčula

A small-town church on Korčula

While today, this island of anglers, vignerons, and hosteliers feels pretty laid back, it was not always so. The history of invasions and takeovers reads like a “Who’s Who” of the continent.

Between 1000 BC and 900 AD, Korčula was invaded by the Illyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Slavs, and the Byzantine Empire. Then the pace picked up. Over the next 500 years, the Island’s rulers included the Serbian kingdom of Raška, the Slavic kingdom of Zahumlje, the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), the Republic of Venice, the Croatian kingdom of Krka, the Hungarian monarchy, the Republic of Genoa, Venice (again), the Kingdom of Hungary (a couple more times), the Kingdom of Bosnia, the Serbian Kingdom of Zeta, and finally ended up back under the thumb of Venice in 1409.

Impromptu a capella performance. Some say that Marco Polo was born in Korčula during its Venetian occupation

Impromptu a capella performance. Some say that Marco Polo was born in Korčula during its Venetian occupation

In 1571, the Islanders repelled an Ottoman Turkish attack, and then – except for frequent attacks by pirates – things settled down. However, in 1797, a new series of takeovers began, including the Hapsburg Monarchy of Vienna, the French under Napoleon, the Kingdom of Montenegro, France again, the British, and finally ended up under the rule of the Austrian Empire in 1815.

During WWI, the Island was caught between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italians (after they switched sides.) Italy won out in 1918, but in 1921, Korčula became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. For the first two years of WWII, the new central authority was the Banovina of Croatia, but between 1941 and 1944, the Island fell under the control of Mussolini’s Italy, then the communist Yugoslav Partisans, then Nazi Germany, and finally the Allied Forces.

Close call.  Not far to the Pelješac Peninsula on the mainland.

Close call. Not far to the Pelješac Peninsula on the mainland.

After 1945, the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was in charge, until Croatia declared its independence in 1991. The war for independence largely bypassed Korčula although most of the nearby Croatian coast was less fortunate. However, it would seem that the Islanders have had to endure a considerable helping of violence and upheaval over the past three thousand years.

As the reality of this history began to sink in, I began to see our good fortune in a new light. Because my grandparents located in a relatively peaceful part of the western hemisphere – one that was to become quite prosperous – I have not had to grow up in the shadow of war and cycles of violence. Instead, I had the opportunity to become better off financially than the overwhelming majority of the world’s inhabitants. We can afford to cruise the Dalmatian Islands on a well-appointed yacht, and have our every need catered to. As our friend Heather said, “Mi smo tako sretni.”

Mi smo tako sretni - we are so lucky. Near Lastovo.

Mi smo tako sretni – we are so lucky. Near Lastovo.

As we toured a number of other areas in Croatia and nearby, the contrast between our good fortune and the recent suffering of others kept bubbling up.

It started in Dubrovnik as we sat with our friendly Airbnb host on his balcony, admiring the spectacular view of the Old Town spread out below us. Not twenty years earlier, our host had been unable to venture onto the balcony for fear of sniper fire from Yugoslav forces on the hilltop above. At age 13, he was stuck inside with his grandmother, while his parents worked as medics in a nearby war zone.

From high on Srđ, destruction rained down on Dubrovnik

From high on Srđ, destruction rained down on Dubrovnik

Later, on top of that same hilltop – Mount Srđ – we could see the view the gunners would have had as they shelled the city of Dubrovnik below. Built as protection from medieval forces, the famous walls were of little use in protecting the citizens from late-20th-century armaments. Srđ now hosts a sobering museum filled with photographs of taken during the siege of Dubrovnik. As you wander the streets with thousands of other happy tourists, it’s hard to imagine the pain and destruction of the 1990s.

The rustic shelters high up Mt Velebit served as refuge from coastal pirates for centuries

The rustic shelters high up Mt Velebit served as refuge from coastal pirates for centuries

In the Islands, there are echoes of slightly more distant wars. The Island of Prezba, adjacent to Lastovo, was a Yugoslav military base during the Cold War. With the Italian coast less than 200 km distant, this area would have been part of the front-line in the 45-year standoff between East and West. Now, fortunately, the island flora is reclaiming the fortifications. Up the coast, similar tunnels dug into the base of Mt. Velebit will become a new tourist attraction next year. Perhaps Tito intended to hide out here if the Russians and Americans started lobbing nukes at each other.

Mostar from the Bridge. A war zone not so long ago.

Mostar from the Bridge. A war zone not so long ago.

In the middle of our week of cycling, our tour bused us all out to the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar is famous for the Old Bridge (Stari Most) after which it is named. The bridge, now a UN Heritage Site, was built in 1566 when Bosnia was under Ottoman rule. During the ethnic fighting that took place in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the bridge was destroyed. In 2004, the bridge reopened, having been reconstructed from original plans and using original material that had fallen into the river during the bombardment. It now serves as a symbol of peace.

Remnants of war for sale at the Mostar bazaar.

Remnants of war for sale at the Mostar bazaar.

Still, the signs of the recent war are all around in Mostar. Plaques in the market read, “Never forget 1993.” A cross on the hill above town commemorates some of the victims of the war. Here and there between the tourist shops are the bombed out shells of buildings that have yet to be reclaimed from the fighting. In the part of town that divided Croat from Bosniak ethnic groups, apartment buildings are still pockmarked in shrapnel wounds. It’s sobering to imagine what those years must have been like. Over 100,000 people died in the Bosnian conflict. Today however, the only visible conflict seems to be among tourists for open-air tables or the best views of the young men who once again jump off the new Old Bridge.

Some of the falls at Plitvice Lakes

Some of the falls at Plitvice Lakes

The week after our cycling trip, we traveled to Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is a unique region of unparalleled beauty, where calcium-laden rivers of unbelievable shades of blue create a “Land of Waterfalls.” It’s impossible to convey the scope of this landscape with a single picture. As you walk down the trails and boardwalks, it’s as if you are right in the middle of the cascading falls. Between the falls are peaceful lakes, and the entire scene is surrounded by forest.

Our home for five nights would be right in the park, in the small village of Korana, nestled on the banks of the same river that sculpts the waterfalls. Just a handful of houses, Korana boasts one of the few still operating water-powered grain mills. Our accommodation in a private home had no WiFi. The valley walls blocked cell phone reception. As we walked along the bank of the river that first early Fall evening, the smoke curled peacefully up from the woodstoves. The tranquility carried with it a soothing balm for the soul. But there is pain that lies beneath.

Our home at Korana Village - peaceful once again

Our home at Korana Village – peaceful once again

Our host explained to us that most of the homes had been destroyed during the Croatian conflict. All the men had spent a year in prisoner-of-war camps run by enemy militias. “If they seem a little strange now,” he said, “perhaps you’ll understand why.”

Right in the beautiful park at Plitvice were fired some of the first shots of the conflict that would rage for three years. Plitvice was the centre of the area of Croatia known as Krajina, which stretches in a big arc along 40% of the Croatian-Bosnian border. During the Middle Ages the Austrian Empire encouraged large numbers of Serbs to settle in this area as a “buffer” against the Ottoman possessions in Bosnia. In recent times there were several hundred thousand Serbs living in this area, with some areas having more Serbs than Croats. In 1991, as the Croatian government prepared to declare its independence from Yugoslavia, the Serbs in Krajina jumped the gun and declared their own republic independent of Croatia. When the war broke out, most of the Krajina Serbs sided with the Serb-controlled Yugoslav government. The fighting that ensued must have been brutal.

Plitvice changed hands four times during the fighting.

Plitvice changed hands four times during the fighting.

As we toured the area around Plitvice, most notably in Karlovac and the surrounding countryside, we pondered the still stark signs of devastation. Almost every home in this region had been war damaged. Apart from ruins that had not been salvaged, numerous homes were still peppered with shrapnel damage, almost 20 years later.

In the countryside around Karlovac, we passed extensive areas that appeared to be reverting to nature, with trees and bushes growing up around the ruins of farmhouses. From time to time, signs warned of uncleared landmines. Some of these areas were formerly populated by Serbs, but several hundred thousand left Croatia during and following the war.

Open air war museum in Turanj, a suburb of Karlovac

Open air war museum in Turanj, a suburb of Karlovac

Traveling through these areas really got me thinking about how hard many people have it. Meanwhile, Cheryl and I live in a peaceful, prosperous country. It’s not too difficult for us to afford a trip like this, where we can eat well, be well looked after, and have guides show us around or entertain us. We get to sail to beautiful islands on a yacht, or hike through beautiful national parks, or spend the day cruising the countryside on comfortable bicycles.

As our cycle guide explained it, “Mi smo tako stretni.” can mean either “We are so lucky” or “We are so happy.” Could this linking of “happy” and “lucky” offer a small insight into the Slavic temperament? Or perhaps we just need to acknowledge some of the good fortune in our happiness. “Mi smo tako jako sretni!” We are so darned lucky!

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Enjoying the peace of an evening stroll in Korana

Enjoying the peace of an evening stroll in Korana

Our five-day stay in Korana Village in Plitvice was arranged by Huck Finn Croatia Adventure Travel. It’s a reasonably priced and somewhat different way to see this part of Croatia. Our guide, Zlatko, picked us up in Zagreb, and spent the next four days leading us on a number of activities around the area: the waterfalls of Plitvice Park, hiking on Mt. Velebit, cycling in the Karlovac countryside, and rafting on the Mrežnica River. Each evening we enjoyed traditional meals in the riverside cookhouse in Korana. Zlatko turned out to be an accomplished classical guitarist, and one evening played a selection of his own arrangements of Balkan flamenco from Macedonia. Our group definitely enjoyed Huck Finn’s Croatia.

Some of us are very lucky. Some not.

Some of us are very lucky. Some not.

One of our most memorable activities in Dubrovnik was a visit to the galleries of War Photo Ltd. on Antuninska Street, just off the main thoroughfare. According to their promotional literature, “It is the intent of War Photo Limited to educate the public in the field of war photography, to expose the myth of war and the intoxication of war, to let people see war as it is, raw, venal, frightening, by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and combatants alike.” There are several photo exhibits about the conflicts in Croatia and other parts of former Yugoslavia, but there are also revolving displays on war’s human costs in Northern Ireland, Syria, Chechnya, Colombia, Israel, Lebanon, and other hot spots. We spent a sobering couple of hours there, and once more came away thinking, “Mi smo tako sretni!”

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Cycling in the southern Dalmatian Islands

“Pshaw!” said Cheryl. “They won’t blame you.” I wasn’t so sure.

Our long-awaited late-September boat and cycle trip through the southern Dalmatian Islands was to begin the next day. After two previous European cycle trips on our own, Cheryl and I had invited members of our outdoor club to join us in Croatia this year. We’d hoped for half a dozen. When the boat sold out 11 months ago, we had 17 in our group. Fantastic.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

Or was it? What if the trip wasn’t what we’d advertised to our friends? A mismanaged trip, or even a bad guide, and our names could be mud. The weather was threatening as well. We’d arrived in Dubrovnik a few days earlier only to wade through an unseasonal deluge that one fellow-traveler described as “biblical.”

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

We were also a nervous about the hills. This had been the biggest single topic of discussion among our group during the planning stages. While most of us were cyclists, we did range from late 50s to early 70s, so it made sense to be prepared. Like many in our group, Cheryl and I made sure to get several trips under our belt over the summer in the islands near our home – but they averaged less than half the heights we were expecting here.

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs.

Departure day dawned with bright sunshine. Arriving at the Port of Gruž by bus, Cheryl and I were buoyed when we spotted the elegant and modern yacht, the Harmonia, with more than 30 bicycles arrayed out in front of her on the dock. It was time to meet our two guides, the crew of six, and our 30 fellow-travelers. Besides our own group members, arriving in Dubrovnik on various itineraries, there were another 15 from other parties.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Of the 32 passengers, there was one American, a few each from Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark – and the rest were Canadian. On the previous week’s sailing, the majority had been German-speaking. The crew and the ride-leader guides were from various parts of Croatia, and like many Croatians we met, they all spoke excellent English. A good thing, as we found Croatian impenetrable.

Cheryl and I unpacked in our air-conditioned stateroom, which was bigger and better equipped than some hotel rooms we’ve been in. After that, our guides, Petra and Neven, introduced us to our bikes. While many in our group had brought their own pedals or seats, Cheryl and I decided we would live with whatever we got. After a few test rides around the dock, we were all satisfied: comfortable, easy-shifting, almost new, and well-maintained. Two of our group and a few of the others had elected to reserve e-bikes, and they were promised a complete lesson before the first ride.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it.  Try to avoid the crowds.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it. Try to avoid the crowds.

Our first formal activity was a tour of Dubrovnik with a professional guide. For some on the ship, this was their first visit to the city. Even though others of us had already spent two or three days here, we saw new parts of town and learned more of its thousand-year history. After some free time in town, we enjoyed the first of many tasty shipboard dinners featuring Croatian seafood and other specialties. The first evening also included wine and schnapps on the captain. “Živjeli!”

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

The follow morning Captain Josip set course across an incredibly azure Adriatic towards the first of our island destinations, Šipan. This was our test ride: fairly level and about 45 minutes each way from the harbour to the small town of Suđurađ. Everyone would have a chance to iron out any kinks in their bicycles … or legs.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

The promise of this ride was encouraging. The bikes performed well. The roads were quiet, and with a few exceptions, well signed and in good repair. Just in case, our guides had provided each of us with maps of the island, with our route hand-traced. Along the way, we passed vineyards and other crops, fascinating churches or occasional ruins, and figs and other fruit growing along the roadside. The quiet coffee stop at the picturesque waterfront town of Suđurađ was an excellent introduction to the many small island villages we would be visiting over the week to come. As we dug into our hot lunch back on the Harmonia, we got under way to our next destination.

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

About the only thing that had been missing from the Šipan ride were panoramic vistas. On Mljet, that would be remedied. We would pay for it in lengthy hill climbs and “undulating” roads, making it the “hardest ride of the week.” That turned out to be smart strategy on the part of the organizers, although some of the e-bike riders who hadn’t quite got the hang of their rides elected to sun themselves on the Harmonia as she sailed the length of the island to meet us. For the rest of us, as we contemplated the island summits each morning, we could always say, “Well, it can’t be as hard as Mljet!”

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra.  Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra. Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

The crew and the guides on these trips work long hours and hard. Yet somehow they manage to remain up-beat and friendly all the while. Besides three hot meals a day and the on-demand bar, great Croatian coffee was always ready before seven, and the last drinks were served after 10 pm. Once and often twice a day, the entire stock of 35 bikes had to be unloaded from the hold and readied for the next ride. (Those e-bikes are heavy.) There was always something interesting for us to do while the staff worked.

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Before our ride on Lastovo, some of us toured decaying Cold War era tunnels on the small connected island of Prežba, until recently an off-limits military base. Others kayaked lazily around the bay, or sunned themselves top side, while taking in the spectacular scenery.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

On Lastovo, we had another glimpse of the challenging job of ride leaders. As fifteen of us are in the same outdoor association, many of us have had experience leading bike trips of from ten to thirty individuals. We know how challenging it can be to provide suitable guidance, watch out for road safety, and still allow riders to set their own pace and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at the town of Lastovo, it came out during coffee and beer, that one of the riders had continued through town and not returned. His companions had become concerned when he didn’t show up, mentioning that he was “getting on in years.” Petra and Neven managed to spend a couple of hours searching the far end of the island, while coordinating others of us to help, and the rest to get back safely to the Harmonia. In the end, the wayward rider showed up unassisted at the ship, having spent a couple of hours drinking beer and discussing wines with a local farmer in his barn. All in a day’s work for our hard-working guides.

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home's social status

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home’s social status

There was a little bonus from the adventure. While Cheryl and I were out searching Lastovo with a friend of the missing man, we stumbled upon a tiny home-based winery, and were invited in for sampling and a mini-tour. Our companion was happy to buy a very inexpensive bottle of a very local wine. By policy, the tour company does not do winery stops in order to avoid dangerous afternoon riding conditions.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Our next trip was the first of two across the island of Korčula. Although the rides on Korčula were not as long as Mljet, they included some of the biggest hills of the week. A couple of them were more than five kilometers of uninterrupted climb, although never more than a 10 percent grade, and more often six to eight. Not impossible, but definitely a challenge if you aren’t used to hill climbing. Our club members all made it, but some of the other passengers sometimes pushed their rides, or made use of the e-bikes (which often meant they led the pack.) On most days, the guide who was “sweep” at the end of the group would start out with an e-bike so that they could swap if someone tired on their regular bicycle. This was not advertised, but it really showed the effort taken by Petra and Neven to ensure the trip worked for everyone.

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

Hey, did I mention the swimming? Most days, there were one or two opportunities for swimming off shower-equipped back of the Harmonia. It was impossible to resist. The water was stunningly clear, and that distinctive azure blue that characterizes the Adriatic in this area. It was also warm enough to get in and stay in. That despite the late September date following the “worse summer in decades.”

The water's great at Prigradica on Korčula

The water’s great at Prigradica on Korčula

After three days of hilly cycling, some of us were glad of a day off for a side trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others might have preferred not to break up the rhythm of the cycling. On the one hand, it was a two-hour bus ride each way, with lengthy stops at both Croatian and Bosnian customs in both directions. Mostar was hot, and rather overrun with tourists. On the other hand, it’s an iconic place, in terms of both its ancient and recent history.

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

Our guide, Senad, was interesting and informed, and I found it engaging to discuss with him some of the aspects of the recent ethnic conflict, together with his hopes for the future. With a little effort, we were able to visit places with fewer tourists, such as the interiors of some of the mosques that dot the city. In the quieter spaces, one could reflect on the significance of the cross upon the hill, or the war-damaged buildings. We could appreciate our return to our peaceful port that evening. “Mi smo tako sretni!” We are so lucky!

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

The entire tour had a satisfying cultural component. In addition to Dubrovnik and Mostar, we also had a professional guide in the old town of Korčula. For all the other islands and towns we visited, Petra gave an interesting historical or cultural presentation somewhere along the way. Although I’m sure she was well-versed in Croatian culture, it was obvious she put a lot of preparation into her job. Often, the guides went beyond the strict requirements of the job description. One morning, a half-hour Croatian language lesson lasted for 90 minutes; we were such eager students, she said.

"Good Morning!" While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

“Good Morning!” While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

One evening, as a special treat, Petra spent several hours giving us her personal view of some of the challenges of life in Croatia. The country suffered considerably during the multi-year war that followed its declaration of independence in 1991. Many industries have yet to recover, and the very personal scars of the war run deep. The country was hit hard again in the global crisis of 2008. Unemployment currently sits at over 17%, and the average gross income is less than $18000 per year. Petra had spent several years working as a nanny in the UK and the US before returning to the country she loved. As an independent guide in a seasonal industry, staying employed was always a challenge. Yet, she also knew that she was better off than many of her compatriots who would have to leave Croatia to find work. Croatia’s recent EU membership was not embraced by everyone. There have been some losers.

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

It was an engaging evening, and we definitely appreciated Petra’s frank and sometimes emotional delivery. We felt we were getting more than just the canned tourist spiel, and were grateful for it. Perhaps in return, we all opened up a bit more. On this trip, I learned things from some long-time friends that I’d never heard before.

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Back on Korčula again for one of the longer rides, the hills no longer seemed so forbidding. They were just part of the journey, and we knew that each one led to views more stunning than the previous. At the end of the longest climb, it was a cool delight to encounter a roadside fruit stand, where we quickly demolished more than one juicy watermelon. Riding along the seaside into Korčula town that evening, I felt a little sad knowing we had only one more day of riding.

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

That last day, for the first time all week, we woke to gray skies and whitecaps on the water. Given all we’d heard about the eastern Adriatic’s “year without a summer,” we thought ourselves lucky to have enjoyed the past six days of blue skies and sun on our shoulders. Our final day of riding took us through the old town of Ston, a salt-drying region since Roman times. The surrounding countryside is protected by a huge wall, second only to the Great Wall of China. Leaving Ston, we had to make a decision on whether to climb the final hill, which, on clear days, would offer “the most spectacular view yet.” Just then, the sky darkened and we heard the rumbling of an approaching storm. Our guides explained that coming down the hill could be dangerous in the rain, and advised that we might do better taking a shortcut down the Split-Dubrovnik highway. What to do?

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

We broke up into groups of three or four, and cycled down the paved shoulder at two-minute intervals. It was busy, although not as harrowing as I’d expected. In the end, it was almost certainly the better option. The storm broke just as we reached the ship. Had we gone over the hill, we would have found ourselves right at the top just when the deluge hit. Although riding in traffic is something I try to avoid, the last half hour in traffic reminded me that, for the entire rest of the week, we’d had the roads almost to ourselves. We often rode for an hour or more without seeing a single car. I even wondered why they kept such well-maintained roads for so little traffic. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best weeks of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed.

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

I needn’t have worried about letting our group down. Comments ranged from “awesome” to “best trip ever!” September is a great month for riding here, and the best month for swimming. Apparently, this is true even in an off year. This was a well-organized tour; the crew and guides were personable and highly professional. A beautiful part of the world, with history stretching back for millennia, the southern Dalmatian islands are a great place to swim, boat, and cycle. Or just to sit in the sun, watch the world go by, and enjoy a coffee, beer, or ice cream – national favourites, all. Some of us will be back.

"This trip was awesome! When's the next one?" (aboard the Harmonia)

“This trip was awesome! When’s the next one?” (aboard the Harmonia)

Related Posts

If you want to follow in our tracks:

The tour company is Island Hopping, based in Germany. They operate similar tours in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, and Vietnam. Others in our club have been on a number of these; all reported great trips. Their organized approach is evident. As with our Dalmatian trip, Island Hopping charters local ships and crews, and contracts independent ride leaders and guides. Their tour list sounds like our bucket list.

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

We booked this trip through BikeTours.com (formerly Bike Tours Direct.) This is the second trip we’ve booked through them. You pay the same rate whether booking directly or through BikeTours.com, but we have done well going through a company we know, and in our time zone. The small team at BikeTours.com are all riders themselves – sometimes they’re spread a little thin when they’re out reviewing rides, but that’s the good news. They know a lot about the tours they sell. Simon & Richie did an excellent job of helping us coordinate the plans of 17 riders. (That may warrant a post of its own!) We look forward to dealing with them again. Meanwhile, here’s the tour: “Dalmatia from Dubrovnik

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

What Happens While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

A Time Thief is operating in our neighbourhood.

How else to explain that my mid-May promise to supply part two of my decluttering post has been outstanding for over three months?

Fittingly, a large part of the delay came from the very non-physical clutter I had planned to write about. My embarrassment at this irony led to further stalling. Could the death of this blog be far behind?

It took a nudge from this young blogger to get me back at the keyboard. (Thanks, Jen!)

While our decluttering project has inched desultorily forward this summer, we’ve been living the “No Pension, Will Travel” lifestyle on other fronts.

Half-way turn on the cycle leg

Half-way turn on the cycle leg on Cheryl’s new road bike.

We’ve continued with our kedges this summer. On the heels of Cheryl’s first half-marathon in the Spring, I joined her for a “sprint triathlon” in May – her third, my first. I enjoyed it more than I expected, and we both bested our targets. Unlike Cheryl, I’d done relatively little triathlon-specific training this year, but my overall commitment to exercising six days a week really paid off.

Synchronized Diving Event at World Masters.  The geodesic dome in the background is from Montreal's Expo '67.

Synchronized Diving Event at World Masters. Geodesic dome in the background is from Montreal’s Expo ’67.

Later in the summer, Cheryl swam her first three-kilometre open-water swim at the FINA World Masters Games in Montreal, Canada. She was thrilled to do this race for the first time ever, and even more thrilled to beat her target time, coming in 22nd in her age-group in an international competition. Along with about 15,000 other swimmers and supporters, we took the opportunity to sight-see in the second-largest French-speaking city in the world – after Paris. Through AirBnB, four of us arranged to stay in a stylish apartment belonging to a McGill University professor. Luxury digs in a great part of town for about a quarter the price of hotel accommodation.

Outdoor Chess near the Place des Festivals

“Montreal Chic”: Outdoor Chess near the Place des Festivals

Between swimming events, we explored the various parts of the Old Town, shopping districts, parks, squares and museums that Montreal is famous for. With unlimited passes for bus and Metro, it was easy to get around – and we were only a half-hour walk from the City Centre. Montreal in the summer has a vibrant outdoor cultural scene, and we found people friendly wherever we went. Everyone was willing to go along with our attempts at French, or switch to English when we got in over our heads.

Something that that stood out for us was the large number of cyclists in Montreal, both on and off the many dedicated bike lanes. Unlike our home town, helmets were in the minority. Those with helmets were more likely to be cycling up Mount Royal at 6am. Those without – often on shopping trips – were more “Montreal chic” – often on bicycles rented by the hour from the Bixi cycle network. We didn’t try it, but, in the summer, you can borrow a bike for free at some Metro stations. All this got us thinking more about a cycle trip through Quebec some summer. Cycle routes abound, and some say it’s like cycling Europe right here in North America.

"Montreal chic" - a member of Montreal's finest sports pink camouflage pants, a creative protest against changes to their pension plan.

“Montreal chic” – one of Montreal’s Finest sports pink camouflage, a protest against changes to their pension plan.

Our next big kedge comes next month, when we will tackle several of Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands by bicycle. We’ve been told to expect after-breakfast climbs to hilltops as high as 1600 feet above sea level, so we’ve taken every opportunity this summer to work on those leg muscles. With friends, or members of our outdoor club, we’ve tackled a number of areas with challenging hills of their own.

San Juan Island Sculpture Park: over 20 acres of outdoor art.

San Juan Island Sculpture Park: over 20 acres of outdoor art.

We started in June with a great couple of days in Washington’s San Juan Islands. No shortage of hills, but most were manageable. After we were forced to walk a steep hill in Orcas Island’s Enchanted Forest, we decided that Mount Constitution – all 2400 feet of it – would have to wait. We continued throughout the summer with several more island cycling excursions with our club, moving northwards into British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. One of those trips included some kayaking as well.

The beach at Sandwell Park on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

The beach at Sandwell Park on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

BC’s Northern Gulf Islands boast one advantage over their more southern cousins. In the summer, the water is often warm enough for swimming, especially after you’ve just cycled over the top of the island.. One thing about island cycling – every side trip down to a beautiful ocean bay necessitates a climb back up a hill. Putting in 1600 feet of vertical in an otherwise lazy day is not that hard to do. We’re feeling pretty confident about the hills of Korčula, Mljet, and Lastovo. I hope we’re not fooling ourselves!

Our annual coastal reunion with the Shedders often includes a forest walk along this peaceful lake.

Our annual coastal reunion with the Shedders often includes a forest walk along this peaceful lake.

We also got in some good visits with friends and family: a trip to the near-desert to visit the new home of friends who will retire this year; a visit from Cheryl’s brother and family on their way home from an Alaskan cruise; and our annual waterfront reunion with our friends from the Shedders. This year, we also got a chance to meet the third Shedder couple, if only for a couple of hours. Can an Australian reunion be far behind?

The gang from Shadowlawn, bracketed by two of the Shedders.  (Photo courtesy of Heather of the Shedders.)

The gang from Shadowlawn, bracketed by two of the Shedders. (Photo courtesy of Heather of the Shedders.)

We also took advantage of some serendipity to bring together three groups for a wonderful evening last month. Our investigation of shared-housing options had led me to discover “Shadowlawn” – the joint Pittsburgh residence of Jean, Karen, & Louise (JKL) featured in “My House, Our House.” I emailed them, and let them know about the Shedders – and vice versa. They must have recognized kindred spirits: before long they were commenting regularly on each others’ blogs. When JKL ended up vacationing in our part of the world at the same time as our friends from the Shedders, they arranged to meet up, and the five of them agreed to present to our “Free at 55” Meetup group at a special “Cohouseholding Corroboree.” It turned out to be one of our best events of the year. You can read Heather’s account of the day on her blog, as well as JKL’s account on theirs.

Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain

Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain (photo: The Bard Brawl)

We finished up that weekend attending a great performance of “Equivocation” by Bill Cain – one of the most engaging plays I’ve ever enjoyed. Heralded as “a play about telling the truth in difficult times,” it is most relevant to the times we find ourselves in this year.

With our weekends so long and full this summer, it was all we could do to pack our regular work schedules into three and four-day weeks in between. Not to mention a challenging one-week course on “interest-based” negotiation, giving our sons some assistance with consolidating their new careers and (for one of them) a new home, and regular chores around our house.

While in Montreal, we ran into this memory of John & Oko's "Bed-in" from the 60s.

While in Montreal, we ran into this memory of John & Oko’s “Bed-in” from the 60s. Still relevant today.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” – Allen Saunders (via John Lennon)

Reflecting on this summer of friends, family and fun has led me to see something more clearly.

I had viewed our decluttering project as the next step on our full transition to “No Pension, Will Travel.” When it stalled, I began to feel as if nothing was moving forward. My perspective fell into a “holding pattern”, waiting until I had the time to start addressing the “big concerns.” I lost my motivation to keep this blog up to date.

You never know what you might find along the way: road sign on Denman Island, BC

You never know what you might find along the way: road sign on Denman Island, BC

In the meantime, life happened. A life to be grateful for. I need to remember that. By all means, make big plans, always have something new to look forward to. But don’t forget to enjoy the meandering path that life follows all the while. For the river of time keeps flowing.

What are Old People For, by Dr. William "Bill" H. Thomas

What are Old People For, by Bill Thomas

Over the summer, I read a couple of books by Dr. William “Bill” H. Thomas that gave me a new perspective on this ageing journey we’re all on. I first read his recently published “Second Wind”. Finding it both challenging and enlightening, I tracked down a copy of his now out-of-print “What are Old People For”. I enjoyed that one even more. These books alone merit a post of their own, but one important idea was that getting older offers us the opportunity to re-learn living in the present moment. As we plan the coming year – or two, or three – I also plan to heighten my enjoyment of life along the way.

So what’s ahead? What stories do we hope to post in the months to come?.

Later this month we embark on our long-awaited cycling trip in Croatia. It’s been a bit more organizing work than I’d counted on. Even though we’re signing on to a pre-existing tour, coordinating the plans of the 15 friends who are joining us has taken some doing. I’m hoping to share some of our lessons learned in a future post. But now that it’s close, we’re finally feeling the excitement. We plan to start our trip with a few days on our own in Ljubljana, the romantic capital of neighbouring Slovenia.

"Ljubljanica 01" by Mihael Grmek - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Ljubljanica 01” by Mihael Grmek – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Cheryl has been mapping out her schedule of triathlons, open-water swims, and half-marathons for the Fall and Spring. One thing she learned from her Montreal competition is that she enjoys the regular training more than the competition, but somehow enrolling in the competitions keeps the training on track.

We’re also thinking about our longer cycling trips for the coming year or two. Besides Quebec, we’re also considering is a trip across the three Baltic countries, passing through the town where my father was born. This would give us the opportunity to meet some of my second cousins for the first time. The family had been out of touch since WWII, and was only reconnected when I started building my family tree on WikiTree a few years ago.

Trakai Castle in Lithuania, by Marcin Bialek

Trakai Castle in Lithuania, by Marcin Bialek (Own work) [GFDL, or CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, we’re still working towards the next phase of our retirement schedule. This year, we struggled with the timing of quitting our current jobs. Somehow, a joint decision kept eluding us. But in recent months, a new plan is beginning to emerge. Cheryl’s employment situation has improved since June, and she’s more excited about staying on for a while. Since I’m the older one in this relationship, it made sense that I should be the first one to make the transition. While a staggered “retirement” creates a few new challenges, it has a number of advantages. Sounds great to me! Christmas would be a great time to give myself a present.

Echoes from the mysterious "old country": Dad & his family

Echoes from the mysterious “old country”: Dad & his family

As for the challenges – such as decluttering – I imagine they’ll be part of that life that keeps on happening while we’re busy making plans.

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  • What do you do to enjoy the present moment while working towards retirement?

Clutterphobia

“Fezzik! Fezzik! Listen. Do you hear? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when Rugen slaughtered my father. The man in black makes it now. His true love is marrying another tonight. So who else has the cause for ultimate suffering?The Princess Bride

I knew who else.

Our landlord had just suggested that we might only have two months to clear out of our rented home – or perhaps they would be generous and give us four. The decluttering project we’d started desultorily was nowhere near complete, and the thought of moving without finishing it was the worst of news.

Intellectually, we’d known that decluttering was a precondition to the more mobile lifestyle we were moving towards with “No Pension, Will Travel.” Yet now I looked with dismay at the six or eight half-filled boxes that sat in the shadow of an exercise treadmill that had become a clothes rack. I’d started filling them when my son’s girlfriend had offered to sell stuff on Craigslist for a 50% cut. They broke up over a year ago, and his new love isn’t into online sales.

How is all that stuff going to fit into the new place?

How is all that stuff going to fit into the new place?

I felt in my gut the cost of all this stuff. I became exhausted every time I even thought about it. The burden of it all could turn a minor inconvenience into a near catastrophe. We were electrified. We had to get this lifetime accumulation pared down before three months of packing unwanted possessions bit into our upcoming travel plans.

The following weeks saw us tackle the project with a vengeance. We mapped out a strategy and dug in. Even when we later received a reprieve in moving for a least the next year, we kept the project going. The cost of our clutter – its clash with our plans and intentions – was now too evident to ignore.

In the past few weeks, we’ve delivered a couple of SUV-loads of donations to the local hospice thrift store. Another load went to our younger son who is establishing his first household. We dismantled and recycled the backyard trampoline that had years ago become an oversized hammock. Gone are the cross-country-ski machine that had waiting for a workout for well over a decade and the undersized racing bike that was “just too good to throw out.” There are still six bicycles in the garage for the three of us, not to mention three double kayaks and two treadmills, so we are not done yet.

Three double kayaks, two treadmills, and the Christmas tree's in here somewhere.

Three double kayaks, two treadmills, and the partridge in the Christmas tree’s in here somewhere.

But we are starting to feel energized by the process. There is a surprising liberation in getting rid of something you’ve been unable to part with for years – or even decades. The room that had held our “to be sold” pile for the past year now sports an empty shelf. I feel unexpectedly light every time I see it.

While we are nowhere near finished, we’ve climbed aboard the Declutter Express. In case you’re contemplating your own journey, let me share some of the things that have worked for us.

“Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a mouse?Dr. Seuss

We established our vision. The title of this blog captures where we’re headed over the coming years. More travel. Long sojourns overseas without taking more than a couple of suitcases. Downsizing, perhaps with some form of collaborative living. All of these are easier with less stuff. And dreaming about them gives us the willpower to go through that next drawer. The next step was to map our trajectory to that dream. We realized that we were likely to be moving two or three times in the next few years, before we settled longer term. We developed a checklist when undecided about whether to keep something. Would you move it once? Would you move it three times? Would you take it to Spain? Do you want it in your “retirement house?” Would you pay to store it somewhere until then – in a locker with a mouse? Well, when you put it that way!

We remembered the best from our past. How many of our most memorable experiences came from our times on the road, with little more than a few changes of clothes to our name. “Remember Costa Rica!” became the family mantra. When the four of us spent six months there, we took four bags – and quickly pared that down to less than two. We traded stuff for experiences, and never looked back.

We got more realistic about how this process was going to work for us. This is something very personal, and depends on your disposition, your schedule, and even your income. After waiting for a year for someone else to sell our excess baggage on Craigslist, it was clear that weekly garage sales and want ads were not in our future. Besides, after recently dealing with the estates of both our mothers, we knew how little cash one generally realizes from selling a lifetime’s accumulation.

Addressing the eWaste problem.

Addressing the eWaste problem.

On the other hand, we like to support a number of charities, and many of them make good use of donations in kind as well as cash. Finding good causes to take our excess is a win-win. It took a bit of preparation, but what helped me the most was putting together a list of deserving and willing recipients so I could quickly decide what to donate where. I say “willing” since many charity thrift stores have lengthy lists of things they won’t accept:, including sleeping surfaces, safety equipment, metal furniture, pianos, pool tables, and almost anything electronic, from stereos to phones to PCs.

This last challenge – finding new homes for unwanted electronic devices – is one of the more difficult. Our only option has been to recycle them through local facilities. These you can often find by spending an hour on the Internet perusing sites like this. Seeing how quickly that shiny new gadget can turn into someone’s disposal problem has made us more thoughtful about our “epurchases.”

The electronic revolution has had another impact on our clutter problem. Growing up in the printed era, I had a great love of books – one that Cheryl shared as well. Most of our oldest possessions can now be found stuffed into the towering bookcases that line most of our walls. With a quick look, I could locate books that date back 50 years or more, and some of those were bought second-hand or handed down from my father’s collection. One of my greatest childhood pleasures was exploring the family library which was loaded with fascinating tomes on some of my favourite subjects. As I started to build my own book collection, one of my motivations was to offer that same literary playground to my kids. But they grew up alongside the Internet, home video, and eBooks – making the home library a bit of anachronism. Over the last few years, I’ve finally made the transition myself, and most of my books come on a Kindle, or from the local library.

Books may be looking for a new home.

Books may be looking for a new home.

Still, paring down that collection lovingly assembled over a lifetime has been a challenge, and it’s been important to find good homes for my “puppies.” Somewhat surprisingly, many places that are still looking for book donations – although absolutely no one wants encyclopedias, National Geographic, or Reader’s Digest abridged classics. So parts of my collection are heading for the local library, the regional library, some private schools, a senior’s facility, a new-immigrant centre, the local hospital, a nearby hospice, a local business collecting book donations for a school overseas – and last week one of the boys asked if he could take some to his new apartment.

So, we’re making progress, and looking at all our stuff no longer evokes “ultimate suffering.” The process of physical decluttering has led to significant changes on the mental front – I’ll share some of that in our next post.

“You have to give up some of The Dream to engage in The Dreaming.– a friend

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more practical advice to help with your own decluttering project, check these out:

“The Best Grandma Ever”

I’m sitting here this morning listening to Andrea Bocelli sing the exquisite “Sancta Maria” from Pietro Mascagni’s famous opera, “Cavalleria rusticana”. It’s one of a handful of CDs and photographs we carried away from an out-of-town family reunion, brought together for the memorial for Cheryl’s Mom, Anne, who passed away last month.

As she had in life, Anne continued to bring together her extended family. We spent the three days renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, talking about old times we knew about, and many we could only imagine. Prior to the gathering, we had put considerable effort into digging up old photos, piecing together Anne’s family history, which seemed shrouded in

Grandma to be in her 20s

Grandma-to-be in her 20s

mystery. Like many in her era, she didn’t talk much about her often-challenging past, and like so many in our era, we didn’t think to ask about it … until it was too late.

I – and even Cheryl – didn’t get to know Anne well until she lost her husband about twenty years ago. Perhaps the two of them had “lived in each other’s shadows” for her widowhood propelled Anne into a series of new adventures: traveling solo and striking up conversations with unlikely strangers, enrolling in self-development workshops, and, of course, visiting us more frequently (all despite her fear of flying.)

It was also during this time that Grandma joined us for a spell during our half-year in Costa Rica. She and two friends toured some of the back roads with us, sleeping uncomplainingly in bug-infested mountain shelters that let the light through the walls. I recall one night when we stood on a barely cooled lava flow of Mt. Arenal, watching and listening to orange-red rocks tumble toward us from the glowing peak. I could tell that she was nervous, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of a good adventure.

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Our two boys, now young men, had nominated Anne as “best grandma ever”. When they were still too young to fly alone, they began a practice of each visiting Grandma for a solo week every summer. They must have been good times as both boys continued these annual visits well into their late teens – at least one of them had his first legal drink courtesy of Grandma. (The drinking age was lower where she lived.) More so than the boys’ parents, Grandma was game for the kinds of restaurants and movies that teenaged boys appreciated: Star Wars, the Matrix, Bruce Lee, and who knows what else. They drove her golf cart and probably lived in a junk food heaven.

Grandma also collected her extended family on other occasions. In the late 90s, she discovered Maui. The occasion of her discovery was not a happy one: the favourite aunt who’d invited her passed away while out in the surf. We were quite surprised when Anne elected to return to the same condo the following year,… and included all of us: kids, spouses, and grandkids. “Do you mind that I’m spending your inheritance?” she’d ask Cheryl. No one objected.

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

She did this twice more over the ensuing years, hooking the family on Hawaii forever. One of our boys talks of moving there, and both of them were quite happy to join the reunion a couple of years ago, which Grandma was unfortunately not well enough to enjoy. I suspect that Maui will be a spot of choice for future family reunions.

Anne was also a thoughtful conversationalist, well read, and interested in many subjects. Always when we saw each other, she and I would start conversations about politics, or demographics, or religious fundamentalism – and then continue them for months afterwards by email. While she held strong opinions, she was always open to persuasion by a good argument.

As for her opinion of me, her son-in-law, I’d say that once she’d sized me up and decided I would be good for her daughter, she was content to trust us, and never interfered in our lives. This sizing up took place quite quickly, thirty years back, and she’d reached this conclusion despite the fact I’d appeared out of nowhere, had not yet officially divorced my ex, and Cheryl and I had just applied to immigrate to Australia. I’d like to think Anne was a good judge of character: she was “no nonsense” and would size people up quickly. She also knew that “hands off” was the best policy once her kids had left the nest: a good example for Cheryl and me with ours.

One of our earlier visits

One of our earlier visits

Whatever challenges Anne may have had in her early life, she continued to have quite a few in her later years. Her husband died young. Several members of her immediate family became increasingly ill in their later years, and relied on Anne for daily care. By the time the last of them had passed away, she was exhausted. And determined never to set foot in a hospital again. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Like Mascagni’s sacred aria “Saint Mary”, which comes from an opera about seduction, revenge & adultery, Anne had her contradictions. Despite her generally healthy lifestyle, she was a lifelong smoker, and in the last few years, it caught up with her. Her declining health pushed her away from the activities she loved: golf, championship bridge, and time with friends. As she weakened, she resisted suggestions to move into an assisted living complex, … until it was too late, and she landed in a hospital ward instead. Over the next couple of years she bounced back and forth between the hospital and a senior’s complex. It took a toll on her “can do” attitude, and affected her family as well.

Grandma with our niece

Grandma with our niece

The last time I saw Grandma, she had made it out to visit us at Thanksgiving. She and I were discussing the idea of cohouseholding, one of the themes of this blog that Cheryl and I are investigating for our retirement. Anne turned to me and said, “You know, Paul, here’s what I wish I’d done 15 years ago. I wished I’d gotten together two or three of my widowed friends, and all moved into a big house together. I wouldn’t be in the condition I’m in today.” I had to agree.

In preparing for Grandma’s memorial service, I learned things I’d never known about the impact she’d had on our boys. One of them, now a producer of marketing videos, put together the DVD for the celebration of her life. He was relating to me one of his favourite memories about Grandma, one that was unfamiliar to me.

At the time, he was 12 and Grandma was traveling with us in Costa Rica. We were on a tour of a number of smaller locations around the country. All the arrangements for these two weeks had been made by our guide and driver, Alexander. This particular day, we were staying at a hotel run by an expat who thought himself above the “help”. He had put Alex in the “servant’s

Already the "world's best grandma"

Already the “world’s best grandma”

quarters” and hadn’t invited him to join us for meals. My son told me that Grandma would have none of that. She insisted that Alex be treated as part of the group, … or else, … and offered to pay extra if necessary. She must have had her way because Alex ate with us for every meal.

Clearly this had a deep impact on my son, and he clearly still sails by her sense of fairness a dozen years later. Such is the impact that the “world’s best grandma” can have.

When and if our turn comes, may we rise to the task.

PS. Here’s a link to my post about my own Mom.

 

 

 

Your 2nd-Act Career – Part II

Last week we shared some of the ideas that came up at a recent “Free at 55” Meetup around the subject of post-retirement careers:  envisioning your lifestyle, knowing both your strengths and your requirements, consulting gigs, overseas teaching assignments, and volunteering.  This week, we continue sharing our members’ ideas around 2nd-act careers, including some ideas that came up at previous evenings.

Take the travel blogger who also finances her overseas travel by doing the research for her children’s books set in foreign lands.  Or the couple who organize small group African safari expeditions that cover the cost of their own participation.

A series authored by one of our Meetup members

A series authored by one of our Meetup members

One idea that garnered a fair amount of attention a our last evening was starting a business, especially a web business that could be managed from anywhere on the planet that has good Internet access.

As with other 2nd-act careers, lifestyle considerations are key.  The trick is to create a business that can succeed with the level of effort you want to devote to it.  Trading a 40-hour a week desk job for a non-stop commitment requiring more than 60 hours a week of your time may not be what you had in mind.  As some of our members shared, it’s relatively easy to end up in this situation.  A bit of reality check may help avoid forging new chains.

One piece of advice was to be sure to tailor services to an audience whose business needs complement your lifestyle needs.  Serving a niche with more laid-back expectations may be the wisest course.  Remember also that you don’t have to do everything well, even within that well-defined niche.  As Tim Ferris and others have suggested, it’s never been easier to outsource the portion of the work that your not prepared to do.

As we heard last week, most 2nd-act careers build on past careers skills and successes in some way.  Look for ways to use the skills you already have and benefit from what you already know.  Last year one of our Meetup members, Elizabeth, told us about her experience as a “retiring” midwife.  She spent many months putting together a polished set of videos on natural childbirth, as well as a workbook and relaxation audios.  By outsourcing the technical work she created a web site to advertise and  sell this educational package.  Since launching, she has been able to bring in enough of an income to allow her to retire, and, as she wrote to me recently, is “now living in sunny Spain 6 months of the year, and loving it.”  Since launching the original site, she has naturally branched out into the post-birth market with a second site: BellyToBabyCoupons.com.

Another Meetup member's information product line

Another Meetup member’s information product line

Elizabeth’s experience underscored an important lesson that we also heard from others who started a  business.  Building a business is a different activity to working in a business.  You need to enjoy the process of building and working on your business.  In Elizabeth’s case, once she had her subject matter recorded in her video-and-workbook package, there wasn’t much “midwifery” left to do.  What there was to do instead was finding new customers – the work of marketing her product.  This meant searching out and acting on opportunities to interact with others in her marketplace, whether affiliates, referrals, or just communities of potential clients.  She reported that the single biggest factor affecting her monthly income was how much marketing she was doing.

Despite the promise of books such as “The 4-Hour Workweek”, most of our members who tried this had found that it took a lot more than four hours a week, especially to get started.  This is not the end of the world, if you are enjoying the time you put into it, and it still allows you the lifestyle you want.  However, some found they’d traded a job they loved for a business full of jobs they hated.  In this case, taking stock and a possible reset may be involved.  Some of our participants were looking at their second or third attempt.

Still, many of us felt there was a lot of potential in a web-based business, whether it be local or international in scope.  Maybe it’s creating events and happenings for your tribe.  Or selling information products such as eBooks, downloadable manuals, videos and podcasts.  There are no end of resources available to help you with this, and, while all of us had some ideas, none of us were experts in this area.

A great resource for a career self-assessment

A great resource for a career self-assessment

And yes, there truly is no end to the assistance that will be offered you if you mention that you’re thinking of starting a business, particularly an Internet-based business.  Some of the offers will likely be fraudulent, and many more bordering on that.  But even after eliminating all the questionable advice, you can still be overwhelmed by all the well-meaning and often quite useful coaches, blogs, sites and systems that offer you a path to business success.  You’ll soon find that you’ll want to pick a few sources that work for you – perhaps they resonate with your background or aspirations – and ignore the remaining 99%.

Perhaps you’ll run into something that really speaks to you.  Recently, I was looking into a program called “How to Start Software and SaaS Companies from Nothing” offered by “The Foundation”.  While I didn’t sign up for their six-month program, I was still able to glean some valuable advice from their website marketing videos.  In addition to offering some concrete examples of how much of starting an Internet business was about the marketing – in fact, the technical work itself was usually outsourced – they pointed to something very important for many of us looking to make something new happen in our lives.  Starting a new career or business will require you to transcend your self-limiting beliefs about money, … or ability, … or any number of beliefs that get in the way of doing something creative, and becoming that 2nd-act butterfly.

Trying out a new career at La Scala in Milan

Trying out a new career at La Scala in Milan

Who knew “retirement” was going to be so much work?

It’s not all bad news, though.  The act of taking on a new challenge of growth may be the very thing that keeps you young and healthy when the calendar suggests you should be losing your edge.

It may also be the opportunity to seek out new social networks as you look for support in making these changes.  Finding them is not that hard.  If nothing else, you can join one of the numerous Meetups devoted to new business success, Internet marketing, or other sorts of “dream building” such as our own “Free at 55” Meetup.

Perhaps you’re on the same path as we and other members of our Meetup.  If so, you’ll:

  • Have a detailed plan for your post-retirement life, captured in a compelling “vision document,” and including detailed budgeting of expected costs and investment income.
  • Create an inventory of past experience and business skills, with emphasis on those you most enjoy using.
  • Connect with others who can support you.
  • Start trying things on.
  • Have a plan, and be persistent.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the ride!  Perhaps the most important lesson shared by everyone at the Meetup was that “retirement is not a destination – it’s a journey.”  Your 2nd-act career may be just one of many “second” acts.  It will almost certainly evolve over time.

So when you start “Dancing your 2nd-Act Career”, know that you’ll keep on dancing till the end…

“Dance me to the end of love, dance me to the end of love.  Dance me to the end of love.” – Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah!

More Resources:

I wonder if there's a future in medieval royalty?

I wonder if there’s a future in medieval royalty?

Here a few more resources that came up during our evening: