Monday, March 24, 2014

Making Plans for Retirement

The topic of retirement has been a popular one with friends lately. Hubster plans to work until he dies; mostly bc he enjoys it and can't think of anything else he'd rather be doing. Such is the life of a tenured college professor. He only teaches one class of about a dozen students per semester, and his grad students do most of his research for him. His hours are flexible and he gets all the same vacations I do, plus makes 2 - 3 times as much money. He travels to interesting places and does interesting things at his own pace. In many ways, he is his own boss. Contrast his life with mine and that of my teacher friends: in the past 3 years, we've gone from teaching 5 classes out of 8, to teaching 8 out of 10. Classe sizes have increased as well, from about 20ish to now 30ish students per class and above. (Last year I had 38 kids in one class and 185 overall.) The school day is now 30 minutes longer, and we haven't had a real raise in nearly a decade. (Yearly tiny pitances totally negated by increased health care costs.) I have gone from teaching two preps (differnt subjects) to teaching 4, and I have a "floater" in my clasroom - which means I can't even be in there to grade papers, plan lessons, etc. But hey! At least I am not the "floater!" . Believe it or not, this is not the stressful part of work, and neither are the students. I still enjoy the kids and will quit the day I don't. The stressful part comes from the endless, repetitive pointless meetings before and after school, all the extra duties that just multiply exponentially (Most days- no conference, no lunch, no bathroom break. Most summers: meetings and trainings. Most meetings : 5 versions of the same thing, in 5 different places/times, with 5 different bosses telling us the exact same things to do), the parents and other adults who make ridiculous demands ("My child needs an A!", "You lost Johnny's paper!" ,"You completed that training too quickly!", "Why is my child failing?" We are going to relocate your class to 5 different rooms in the next 4 days!" You must stop your lesson plan cycle right now-no advance notice- and bring your students to the computer lab to be trained on college preparation"), and the total insanity of our schedule, as dictated by Big Testing : we start testing in March and it goes through to the rest of  the year. That's over 1/3 of the school year spent on testing alone. (Why is testing a problem you ask? Because it shuts down the entire school: students are tested all day long, classes are moved or cancelled, some student groups told not to even attend for days at a time, others are herded into the auditorium and shown "Remember the Titans" for the 7th or 8th time, lunches are reconfigured, teachers get no conference, some kids never get lunch or get a sack lunch while still imagine this scenario being the norm for  3 months of the school year.)

But this is not a blog entry about the ills of modern education - I'll save that for another day. This is about planning for my retirement. I have 5 years till I qualify for my pension, and am in "T-5 years" mode. Paying down debts and saving even more.. Finishing those big projects before the income stream diminishes. While I would love to stay and teach another decade (and still feel I have lots to contribute!), all the problems with education right now make it extremely likley I will retire when I hit my number. Every teacher I know is thinking along the same lines. Talk is focused on will we have enough money, what will we do next, how will we reconfigure our lives in retirement. I know many who tutor, substitute teach, started their own businesses, took on part-time jobs , stayed home with grandkids, started new schools, went back to school....the possibilities are endless.

I plan to be a radical. I've spent the past 30+ years muzzling my thoughts and ideas for the sake of being a public servant, and I am looking forward to speaking out about the things I care about. I'm going to join all the causes I never had time to support while working, and be out there in the picket lines. I'll be the granny with her hair in a bun you will see on tv being hauled away in a police car. Look for me.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Coincidence? I Think Not

Lady Gaga's "meat " dress and the plastic counter covers in the cafeteria at my school...notice the resemblance?

Advice for Graduating Seniors : 10 Things Young People Can Do to Change Their Lives, Their Future, and Be Successful

10 Things Young People Can Do to Change Their Lives, Their Futures, and Be Successful

I’m not sure if this goes from #10 > #1, or #1 >#10 in order of importance. I just know they are all connected, and equally important. Read why:

10 Get control of your own desires. Whether it is shopping, alcohol, drugs, or sex – as a young adult, a little bit is fun; too much can ruin your life. The most important thing successful people do is to not let their desires rule their lives. It will be difficult when you see your friends engaging in what appears to be wild unrestrained grownup fun – until the next morning when you see what really happened the night before.  It will challenging, after a hard day of work (whether physical or mental work) to not cut loose completely and go wild. I’m not saying don’t get out there and have adult pleasures; just be a complete adult and do it responsibly.

a)Shopping, consumerism, that “I must have it now” feeling – You are born with a prefect credit rating. It starts at 100%, an A+ grade, and choices you make in your life bring it down or keep it up. Get a job; pay your bills on time. Don’t take out credit cards. Create a budget and live within your means.  Put off major purchases until you can afford them. If you can’t pay a bill on time, talk to the organization you owe money to and set up a payment plan. It’s so much less stressful to not owe money, and it frees up any extra funds that might come your way, to give yourself a good time, later.  It is foolish to drive a car that costs more than you make in a year, more than  the cost of some people’s homes. It is foolish to blow money on shoes or other frivolities and pay interest for it for the rest of your life. Why does this matter? People will help you if they see you are responsible.  If you pay your bills on time, live within your means, and take care of your credit rating, you can apply for and receive student loans, car loans, a mortgage when it is time. And the interest rate will be lower; you will pay less to do it. Also important – don’t let anyone else, not even a family member or close friend, use your credit rating (for example, they take out a debt or credit card in your name). If their own credit is bad, that means they owe someone money. Guess what? They won’t pay you back, either.

b)Drinking and partying – Learn your limit and stick to it. The absolute most important thing is to always have a designated driver. (Surely you have one friend who doesn’t drink or can’t tonight for some reason.) The second most important thing is never drink alone, or go to a bar or party alone. Bring a friend with you, keep an eye on each other and your drinks, don’t let someone who isn’t a bartender give you a drink. Please don’t do 21 shots when you turn 21 – it will kill you.

c)Drugs – If you think drugs are the answer, try counseling first or in-between. If you are turning to drugs whether to have fun or dull the pain – either way, you need to talk to someone who can help with the underlying cause. Colleges and universities, the military, and most work places offer counseling services for free or very little cost. Think of it as a pampering spa, just for you and your emotions: someone is paid to sit there and listen to you, help you deal with your issues in a non-judgmental way, and it’s all confidential. No one else will ever know. A deep dark vault just for you. While scary at first, it really does feel good eventually. Like getting a mani-pedi for your mind.

d)Sex-It is a natural, normal human desire to want to connect to another human being in a way that makes you feel loved, special, safe, and intimate. Recognize that early relationships are like training wheels on a bike, a way to practice loving and being loved in a relationship. Each relationship you have will hopefully allow you to grow and mature as a human being. Love and respect yourself first, though, enough to follow your own values; don’t let yourself be pressured in to anything you don’t want to do, and treat others as you wish to be treated. And remember – the longer you put off having children (long enough to get yourself what you need, first: an education, a job, some adult fun), the better off both you and the children will be. Only YOU can really, truly decide when you are going to have kids. Be responsible for your choices. (Remember, choosing to have unprotected sex is like saying “It’s ok with me if I or my girlfriend gets pregnant/catches a disease right now. “  It is a passive choice you have made.)

9 Make a plan. It’s ok if you change or revise your plan as often as needed – just have a plan. Any plan. Whatever it is. Brainstorm what you want from life, then figure out some steps to help you get there. (This is a great stress reliever when things go wrong, too – write down a plan to fix it. Then do it, even if in baby steps.) You don’t have to write it all down, but you have to spend some time thinking about it. Join the military, go to college, get a job. Live at home, work, and go to school – or head off into the wild blue yonder. You will never achieve anything in life if you don’t take the time to figure out what it is that you want, and then figure out some things you can do right now to work towards it. The hard thing is to aim for something in the distant future (save money to go to college) when there are fun things (like partying with friends) happening right now. One tiny voice in your head shouts “I want it NOW!” and the other tiny voice whispers “I’m afraid I will fail …. I’m afraid of the future….it’s too far off….I don’t know what to do, or how to do it…..I don’t know  if I can do it……So I’ll just party now, and not think about it.” That is a recipe for spending the rest of your life living at home and not having any fun. Just find a way to have fun that doesn’t take away from your long-term goals. See # 10 Control your desires.

8 Learn to slow down, think about things, and don’t make a decision or give an answer to a request too fast. Major decisions made in haste are often regretted in haste. What that means is, don’t make any choice too quickly, especially the ones that can alter your life. (Hamburgers  or pizza tonight? Sure, no problem. Decide quickly. Go with your mood right now. Get married? Take a new job? Have a baby? Join your friend in an illegal way to earn some money? Take some time to think that through, first.) Talk it over with friends and family. (See # 5) Sleep on it. And if anyone is pressuring you to decide something too fast, that should send off warning bells in your head. Memorize this statement and repeat as often as necessary: “I can’t decide about that now. I will let you know after I have thought more about it. I will let you know tomorrow.” The harder they push you to decide or commit – RIGHT NOW! -the more that should send the warning signal to your brain (see # 4 below) . There is nothing that urgent in life (unless you are marooned in space and the oxygen is running out) that a decision can’t wait until tomorrow.  Just keep repeating the statement. Refuse to say yes or no.

7 Earn some money. If you get a job, you will feel better about yourself, no matter how menial the job. If you are honest, show up on time, and do your best, work hard – no one can ever fault you. You will get promoted-more money, more responsibility, and a better job. It will make you feel good about yourself to achieve this. Half of life is just showing up (on time) with a positive (or at least, neutral ) attitude, and doing your best. Really. And remember, every famous wealthy person once started out just like you – a kid with a dream. Most of the really successful people in life started out poor or middle class. Rich kids rarely have that hunger that drives people to work, to achieve – and they almost never do. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, you will feel good about 2 things:  your relationships (friends and family) and your career – what you achieved in your life. So start now.

6 Save some money. You will get sick and tired of people saying this to you, but it is true: “If I had put away just one dollar from every paycheck since I first started working, and let it grow with interest all these years, I’d be a millionaire now.” At the very least, put aside a little emergency cash somewhere safe.  In the early years, it is hard to do, you don’t earn much, I know – but what often separates the haves and the have-nots is that one disaster (job loss, car wreck, medical bill, home repair, legal problem) that ruins everything, when you are so close to doing ok but living on the edge. At the very least, cultivate a network of family and friends who can help each other when problems strike. And know that they will. If you are really serious about getting rich, read up on the stock market and how to invest. Start your own business.

5 Make, and keep, good friends “Friends are the family you choose.” (This goes for boyfriends and girlfriends, too as well as platonic friends.) If your friends aren’t supportive of the goals you have set for yourself- find new friends. If your friends are toxic, hateful, gossiping, mean, jealous, dishonest, selfish, encourage you to do risky things or bring out the worst in you – find new friends. If your friends get you in trouble, or have friends could get you in trouble or who don’t treat you with respect – find new friends. If your friends aren’t there for you when you need them – get new friends. Good friends build you up, make you laugh, share life’s adventures, encourage you, as you will them. Good friends will support you when you have problems in life, will be there for you to talk to, as you will them. Good friends want what is best for you, and give as much in the relationship as they take. How do you find and make a good friend? Start with common interests, hobbies, activities. Talk to people even if it makes you nervous. Be kind and helpful, and see who returns the favor. Stay in touch, follow up, care about them . A friendship is like a plant, if you tend it, it will grow. If you ignore it, it will die.

4 Trust your “spidey sense” This means trust yourself and your gut instinct about people and situations. If something feels like a bad situation, if a person seems sneaky and dishonest, they might be. Hold back a bit and observe, collect more information before deciding. (see #8 above. Nothing has to be done in a hurry.)  I’m not saying go through life not trusting everyone and everything . At some point you have to trust people to fully engage with the world in order to live a full life, to love and be loved. But you know you are smart, and you have experience with people and situations. Use that knowledge to help you read what is going on, and get a sense of people’s true motivations, underneath their words. Look around you, watch others, develop a back-up plan or escape route. Don’t go into a dangerous situation. Observe others’ body language, and also how your own body (Heart racing? Hair on your arms standing up? Sick feeling in stomach?) is reacting to a questionable situation. Some people call it déjà vu, some people call it intuition, some people call it karma, a guardian angel, or past life recognition. Whatever you call it, if it feels dangerous, especially, get away and get some perspective.

3 Don’t be afraid to fail Buddha says that life is always in a state of change, that this is the only constant. Nothing ever stays the same. The only thing you can control is your reaction to what changes around you. Life happens, and that means bad things as well as good things. What separates successful people from unsuccessful people is that successful ones approach life’s problems with the attitude of “How can I fix this problem?” or “What can I do now that …… has happened?” We have lots of clichés in our culture on this topic, such as “Every time a door closes, a window opens” or “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. If you are going through a rough patch, pick a quote that helps you and look at it often. Remember, it is ok, even good, to fail, hard as that may seem at the moment.  If you never try, you never fail. If you never fail, you never have the opportunity to learn the lesson, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start up again. Lost your job? This is your chance to try something new. Breaking up with loved one? Now you can get to know yourself again, and figure out who would be a better match for you. Remember that happiness does exist on the other side of a hard time. You just have to get through it, to get there.

2 In the end, your character is all you have There will be times in your life when everything bad seems to happen at once. You will lose your job, your spouse; go through financial, emotional, and social upheaval. Bad people (former bosses you ticked off, former spouses you have left, ex friends you moved away from, people who never liked you or were threatened by you in the first place) will say hateful untrue things about you. People love to gossip and will repeat it- that is just human nature. But a few people won’t believe it – and you will learn two things from this type of experience: 1)Who your real friends are, and 2)In everyone’s life there comes a time when you have lost everything – home, money, loved one, status – and the only thing you have left is your character.  What is your character? It is how you behave day in and day out, in thousands of ways large and small, that reflect your inner values and your own personal morality (whether as part a religion or not).  It is whether or not you were honest, kind, and fair. The way you behaved in the past and the choices you make now tell everyone you meet who you really are. And a good character can never be taken away, because it is the truth about you. It comes out and is seen by all. Only you can decide what that character will be.

1 Take a risk – on yourself. Don’t be afraid to get out there and go for it – whatever it is – that is going to move you into your ideal adult version of yourself. You know yourself, and you know what you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask for something – what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no? Better to jump way out there in life – head off to a strange college, take a new job, meet new people, travel, study new things – and fail, than to sit at home the rest of your life and play video games. Don’t be afraid to take out student loans (maybe balance the amount with your potential career earnings) or try a new career path, move to a new city, meet new friends. You can always stop and regroup if you don’t like what you are doing. But now is your moment – that path you and your parents/family have been on is forking. They will go one way, and you will go yours. You are not a baby anymore and can’t stay on their path anyways – so embrace your own way. Don’t let passive decisions determine your life for you. (That means, not making any decision is also a decision.)Sure it’s scary! But it’s also fun. It’s like being in an all-you-can-eat buffet….”I’ll some of that, and a few of those, and oh! That looks good, I’ll take one…” Isn’t that better than a life of nothing but bland boring baby food?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spring Break in Italy

Part of my recent mid-life crisis was to sit myself down and figure out how to live my life more intentionally. By that I mean, figure out what it is that I really want - NOW!! and find a way to do it , get it, be it. I'm not advocating being selfish- I'm coming out of that 20 year long tunnel known as "mommy-dom" wherein I totally gave up every personal desire and need, including sleep, adult food, and clean fashionable clothing, all subverted for the common good known as "parenting children". Like many folk at mid-life, I am trying to figure out the next chapter. I can't really handle the sports, archaeology and other physically taxing hobbies of my youth. I can still paint but for some reason am having trouble getting back into it.

I subscribe to a wide variety of blogs, some of which focus on clearing out the clutter- of one's house, one's mind, one's life. The goal is to focus and enjoy - not to live a Spartan existence, but to be deliberate in one's choices. These blogs inspire me to figure out what is important, and to not waste time on the unimportant.  Life really came into perspective for me with the death of my parents recently, who both passed away before 80. If I follow the trend, I have fewer than 30 years left.....maybe only 20-25 good ones. Think how fast the previous 20 years just whizzed by; I'm not being morbid, just wanted to live what I've got left to the fullest. I write a lot about bucket list ideas here in my blog, but that's because as a mom, I feel I've lost myself somewhere.....and on auto-pilot in my life. I was still driving the 9 mpg minivan long after the kids had their own cars. Why?  I had loved poodles all my life but hadn't owned one since a child. Why? I love to travel but hadn't taken advantage of the fact that I have a captive audience of willing, eager students and those educational tour companies exist that send the teacher for free once 6 students have paid. Why have I not put a trip together years ago? My favorite color is blue, but I was living in a home decorated in red and rust, and it was dark and depressing. Why?

I believe that we are who we chose to be. Nobody is going to come and save you. You've got to save yourself. Nobody is going to give you anything. You've got to go out and fight for it. Nobody knows what you want except you, and nobody will be as sorry as you if you don't get it. So don't give up on your dreams.

OK, so this is a somewhat overly dramatic inspirational quote I got from pinterest. It's aggressive tone probably says more about me than I care to admit.....But who cares? It speaks to me, and I keep a copy of it by my computer and look at it and think about it, every day. Why wait till retirement to live my life, buy a new car, take that trip I always wanted, redecorate the house (throw out the chewed on, dog-pee-stained furniture...never could figure out why old folk redecorated. Always thought when I was young, "Why bother? Your life is almost over." Now I know. It's bc you cherish the dream of being able to sit down on a sofa that is not crunchy with food stains.) Carpe Diem, as Robin Williams says in "The Dead Poets Society". I might die tomorrow. Nearly everyone knows someone who spent their entire lives waiting for retirement, only to die or develop a limiting health problem shortly after the official retirement date, and to have wasted their entire life , waiting to retire - to do the fun things. This is not a new theme; it's as old as time. PBS and corny old movies have a lock on this topic, with two aging stars experiencing love among the ruins. How cute.

I am serious, however, and was driven to action by my therapist who said to me, "What is it that you want?" So I sat down and made a list: 1) I wanted a new beach cruiser bicycle - a nice one . Had no money, so I thought and thought.....and remembered a ziplock sandwich bag of broken 14k and 18k jewelry I'd been saving, my whole life. Odd, mis-matched earrings, chains that were torn - stuff going back to my early teens, age 12 or 13. In spite of my many travels, I'd hung on to this collection of jumbled junk, and with gold currently fetching high prices, I took it in, sold it all, and had a really nice chunk 'o change. Bought the bike. Booked the trip.

Rice Gals, Class of '83 Mini-Reunion

Brief gathering at New Year's of some old college girlfriends; it was fun to see them again even if our time together was all too short. Hard to believe we've known each other for over 30 years. Husbands, jobs, houses, fashions may come and go, but girlfriends are forever!