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Archive for October, 2009

A couple of people have written to me privately, asking for updates on the Big Life Shift.  I hadn’t realized it was so long since I’d posted, so an update is long overdue.

Now that we’re over the first shock — it’s actually not so bad.  The day after I wrote that gloomy assessment, I mentioned to my husband that I would need to order another skein of yarn so I could finish my head scarf for church.  “Where’s the yarn shop?” he asked.  “Center Harbor.”  “Great, let’s have lunch there!”  And next thing I knew, we were driving the 50 miles up to Center Harbor, a tiny village on the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee — about half the drive takes place along the shoreline of the lake, and at this time of year, of course it was gorgeous.  I bought my yarn, we found a cute lunch place (closed for the season now, unfortunately), and had a Date.  You’d think we’d have been able to have a lot more Dates with the kids grown and gone, but his working conditions — getting up at 2:45 am, leaving at 4:30 am, and not getting home till 7:00 pm — precluded all but household chores.  Now there’s time for Being.

On the advice of our priest, he let a full week go by before beginning another job search (I think Father had more like a month in mind), and the first person he wrote to for a reference — an old professional acquaintance —  said, “Send me your resume.”  Turns out he works for an OSHA training institute, and they’re looking!  So Jim’s been spending the last few weeks updating and honing his resume, which sounds a little obscene, in this economy (our son, for example, still doesn’t have a job).

He gets up, as he said, “at the same time I would have been walking in to work”; makes coffee and breakfast; then settles down to work at the computer for a couple of hours.   Then he takes a break, either with household chores (our back door has finally been painted, after 15 years) or by going for a long run around the neighborhood.  He does all the grocery shopping and a good bit of the cleaning, and I don’t have to tell you all how I feel about that.    😀    (A side benefit:  Due to his background in public health, he actually knows how to clean better than I do.)  But I really appreciate his shopping for dinner; he’s a good bargain hunter, but so far, he’s also picked out better cuts of meat than I’ve been able to find lately.  Must come from having enough time on his hands to do it.

So…we’re shaking down with it.  I never thought there could be life after retirement, but I guess there is!

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Retirement.

As many of you already know, my husband’s last day on the job was yesterday, and he is the first to admit that it was tough.  I know that there are people who actively look forward to their retirement, so they can golf all day, or fish all day, or enjoy the grandchildren; we are not among them.  My husband is too active a man to enjoy reading all day, or working crosswords all day (his two main hobbies), and the grandchildren are now in South Carolina.

At least we are spared economic privation (for the time being).  Largely thanks to Ronald Reagan, Americans think that civil servants live in the lap of luxury.  That is only the case for members of Congress and very high Administration officials; the rest of us live very similarly to the rest of our communities.  The big difference is that, up till sometime in the 1970s, civil servants were ineligible for Social Security, and instead were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System, under which you accrued a certain percentage of your base salary for every year you worked.  If you left civil service at age 55, you were eligible for half of your “high three” (the average of the three highest salaries you’d earned in the period), and you accrued 2% per year after that, for a maximum of 80% of your “high three.”  Yes, it’s generous; it was meant to make up for the fact that civil servants often earned salaries much lower than their civilian counterparts.

In the 1970s, the system was changed for employees entering civil service, but people who had come on under the CSRS could opt to remain with it.  Under the new Federal Employees Retirement System, the benefits were not as good, but federal employees were eligible for Social Security.  We took a hard look at our options, and decided to stay with CSRS.  Now I’m glad we did.

But there’s such an emotional wrench to retirement.  When you are well loved, as my husband has been, people are genuinely sorry to see you go, and there’s an element of feeling as if you are abandoning people who need you.  Yet, many people assured my husband that they would not be far behind him; civil service has changed so much that people are leaving in droves.  Think that’s a good thing?  They are being replaced by people who can’t spell, can’t do accurate arithmetic even with a calculator, and have no work ethic at all.  Those idiots who shut down the federal government in 1995, then boasted that “everything worked just fine,” should have given it another three months — we’d still be picking up the pieces.

Yes, I’m hurting.  It hurts to think that someone who cared so much, and was so appreciated by the people he helped, was so little valued by his supervisors.  It hurts to see someone with so much left to give, unable to give it.  It hurts to think of him on the shelf.

Don’t let anyone kid you.  Retirement sucks.

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