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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Embracing freedom of retirement takes some practice

It’s taken eight years, but I think I’ve finally gotten comfortable with the concept of being retired.

Well, not retired completely. Retirement for me means having left a full-time job with set hours at a set location for a return to the world of low-impact freelance writing, something I did for many years when my children were young. It also, I should note, means a huge cut in pay.

I was very, very fortunate in that my husband was (and still is) working and that, as long as we don’t do a bunch of stupid stuff, we can make it work financially.

At first I was a little lost in space. I was busy building a little freelance writing business, so my days were filled. But there was no office to go to, no co-workers to interact with and no workplace energy to feed me and into which I made a contribution. It was strange and a bit lonely, but I got myself established in this next chapter of my life and got to work – from my home and sometimes in jammies and slippers.

Over these eight years since I bid adieu to the relative security of regular employment and a regular paycheck, I’ve figured out that while I do need some level of work in my life, I don’t need or even want to be writing all the time and have scaled back to a level that I like better. And I’ve ramped up some volunteer activities that appeal to me.

I’ve discovered a couple of work-at-home disciplines that make it a smoother and better-organized operation. Get dressed right away and make the bed. Have breakfast, read the newspaper and launch into the day. Always get work projects going before breaking to do laundry, dishes, yardwork.

But the biggest thing that I’ve finally embraced is that it’s OK to have down time, aimless time and time for spur-of-the-moment decisions. And to be grateful for the ability to do this.

The other evening I sat out on the deck and just looked into the pine trees and up at the clouds, felt the cooling breeze on my face and let my mind drift. My husband came home from a job late one morning a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to come along on a job he had out by Lake Coeur d’Alene that afternoon. I had planned on doing some research for a future story I had in mind, but it was nothing that couldn’t wait a day, so I threw some sandwiches together and off we went. We had some nice conversation in the truck and ate by the side of the lake when he was finished with his job and enjoyed the fall colors. How nice was that!

When my oldest son called me last spring to tell me he’d be in London but could stay over for a week if I wanted to meet him there, I jumped at it. In less than 10 days, I got research done and stories written (apparently I can still hit a hurry-up deadline), purchased my ticket, made some meals ahead for my husband and found myself in Trafalgar Square with my boy. We had a grand time.

Sometimes I’ll take a whole afternoon and just read. And I’ve discovered the joy of lunching, leisurely. I like to think I’ve not become one of those “ladies who lunch,” a group of women who are not treated kindly in all sorts of media – in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company,” for example, such ladies are criticized for wasting their time perpetually lunching and criticizing other women’s lives while doing nothing to fix their own. But darn it all, there is something so lovely visiting with women friends over a sandwich and without a stopwatch ticking in our ears – talking about family, concerns, politics, health, books recently read or whatever else comes to mind.

I don’t “do lunch” all the time. Sometimes not for weeks on end, then maybe twice in one week. And I always, always, always make a date for next time before departing from the restaurant – whether scheduled for a month away or six months out. I’ve long since realized it’s easier to move a date should something come up or even cancel if need be than it is to get it on the calendar to start with. I learned that the hard way. I had a good friend with serious health issues who I hadn’t called in a while but kept meaning to. Often I’d pick up lunch and take it to her for our visits. But I didn’t get around to calling in time. She died.

Sure I sometimes still miss the dynamism of the workplace and how the mind is stimulated by interaction with co-workers and how easy it is to feel out of the loop and less current and less vital in “retirement.” But it passes.

There is a freedom I have here in retirement that I didn’t have before, and I’ve finally embraced it.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists.
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