Hello… I’m Angela. Retiring may seem like a huge relief, but don’t let that fool you. It’s just as intimidating as any new job. There are things you need to do when you retire. Tighten your belt. Learn how to fill up your day. Take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, physically, intellectually, in whatever order you choose. This blog is about all the dimensions of retired life. I hope you’ll find it fun, informative, and helpful—like a conversation with a good friend—regardless of whether you’re already retired, thinking about retiring, or demi retired like me.
Bedecked, festooned, adorned. Pick your favorite over-the-top adjective. Come summer, there are flowers everywhere you turn in Québec city. And, just as I’ve often observed in Maine, the perennials seem more vivid, more lush. Perhaps because they know they’re appreciated more when summer starts late and ends too soon???
As we hover between the last gasp of winter and the earliest days of spring, take a moment to visit Roussillon with me.
Roussillon rises out of the Vaucluse like a Provençal Brigadoon. The ochre-laden earth gives it a sunny luminescence even on the grayest day. Roussillon is one of the villages perchés of Provence—the perched villages that grew up on summits as a protection from invaders—in the Luberon region, much of which is protected as a national park. This is the Provence of story, straight out of Marcel Pagnol*. If you are lucky enough to visit at an off time, when the village is not over-ridden by tourists, you are guaranteed to find magic there. But even in the height of tourist season, Roussillon is worth the effort.
Our favorite Roussillon experience, bar none, was wandering into Galérie Porte-Heureuse, where we discovered the paintings of André Deymonaz and first got to know the wonderful Deymonaz family. Don’t miss it if you visit the village.
Roussillon is the fictitiously named village in sociologist Laurence William Wylie’s Village in the Vaucluse, the result of his in-residence account of rural village French life in 1950-51, with a later look back at the inevitable erosion of a culture and lifestyle clinging to its roots while still traumatized by the war and its aftermath. During one of our trips, I happened to meet a delightful woman who had grown up in Roussillon at the time of Wylie’s stay. She told me that her family had befriended the Wylies, and that a number of the villagers were very upset when the book was published, as they felt it far too personal and critical. Having read the book, I can understand that; I found some of his perceptions cold and distant, but an academic would argue that one with me, of course. Nonetheless, if you are a francophile and/or a 20th Century history buff, you may want to try it.
Note: I’ve added a number of links to this post so that, if you are so inclined, you can easily learn more.
UPDATE: Notice the goof in paragraph 2, where I wrote “spring” instead of “string.” Wishful thinking if not a Freudian slip, so I’m going to leave it as is!
I launched my blog with the New Year after months of tossing the idea, well seeded by my daughter, around in my head. Finally, around Christmas time, I plowed headfirst into WordPress to see if I could figure it out on my own. Some aspects were fairly intuitive; others, virtually inscrutable. I’m no techno-dummy, but at times I felt completely intimidated by all the techno-speak.
I plodded along, going back again and again to try to unravel what seemed like that gigantic ball of spring that sits along a roadside in Kansas. With each small victory, my confidence grew. Sometimes, it took four or five tries. Sometimes, I hit a brick wall and needed professional help (probably in more ways than one). My son pitched in when he could. One of my new younger friends, whom I like to call my techno-angel, has been very gracious and helpful. Little by little, it’s coming together. I try very hard not to get discouraged—after all, this is supposed to be fun—but there are moments when I long for a resident 10-year-old. LOL.
Happily, I’m making progress with each passing week. Now, thanks to the wise counsel and assistance of my techno-angel, I even have a Gravitar… a “globally recognizable avatar” that shows up online whenever I do, in my #HashTagRetired persona. As my irrepressible Uncle Sam used to say, “Who’da thunk it?”
I’m determined that this blog will always be not only informative and entertaining but also lovely to look at. I know a striking, user-friendly website when I see one, but it was a revelation to learn, thanks to my kids and my techno-angel, that my initial notion of a beautiful look wasn’t necessarily the most effective for a blog.
It had never crossed my mind, for example, that I should be more concerned about how format and photos look on a cell phone than on my laptop screen. That was an Aha! moment for sure. I write on my laptop every morning, but I use the phone all day long to check email, the sites I follow, the weather, yadda, yadda, yadda. Most of us do. And even though I agree that we’re overly dependent on our electronic devices, if you resist keeping up with technology, you risk losing your social context. And just like sitting in front of the TV in a recliner, being out of context can make you feel old and out of touch long before your time.
You may have noticed that I started out with #retired and then migrated to #HashTagRetired, which, if you’re techno-savvy, you probably think is redundant. I’m not 100% sure where that will land. If you’ve followed the blog from the start, thanks for your patience with the changes thus far. There will be more; there’s no room for complacency in the faster-than-Superman online universe. Tweets, Instagram, maybe even Pinterest—they’re all on the horizon. A blog, I’ve discovered, needs to be just as organic as the thought process that produces it.
Photo: Miss Puppy Clouseau visits her friends at the solar farm.
Author Laura Schenone went to Italy in search of her ancestral ravioli recipe. Hold that thought while I digress a bit.
Ravioli is my favorite food in the world. Not the fancy kind, stuffed with lobster or “kiwi infused pork” (no kidding!). Plain old cheese ravioli. Peasant food—la cucina povera— at its finest. It was my family’s signature dish for Christmas and Easter. Other special occasions might feature gnocchi or lasagna or “homemades,” but ravioli was always my mother’s pièce de résistance.
Mom didn’t use a recipe, of course—she did it all by feel. She rolled the dough and cut and filled the ravioli by hand, while the sauce was on the stove, in the last few hours before dinner. The ravioli were so tender they truly did almost melt in your mouth.
My mother eschewed shortcuts, possibly because the act of making the ravioli was so important to her. Daddy bought her one of those special rolling pins with the die-cut squares—a ravioli cutter—but she never used it. The ravioli it produced were too small, she said. When he brought home an Italian macaroni machine (that’s what we called it), she used it once, to make spaghetti as a first course for Thanksgiving, then retired it to the basement, saying it required too much flour, which made the dough tough. She never made the ravioli in advance and froze them, as many people do. Mom learned most of what she knew about cooking from her two older sisters—my grandmother had died in the flu epidemic when my mother was only eight. My guess is that Mom’s attachment to “hand made” ravioli was a way of staying connected to her earliest, and probably fondest, childhood memories.
When I was about nine, she patiently trained me to help her. I marveled at the way she whipped that dough around the long, smooth macaroni stick Daddy had made her. She didn’t fold the pasta dough in half, drop the filling at intervals, and then fold it over and cut around it—she cut out every single top and bottom and filled them one-at-a-time. I learned to make the filling—ricotta mixed with egg, fresh parsley, a bit of pecorino, and black pepper—drop a dollop onto the cut-out square of dough, top it with another, and crimp the edges together with a wet fork. And then race to get those delicate little packets into the pot of boiling water, with her chiding me to handle them with care.
I should add that Mom was a working mother. That she didn’t start cooking till after 8:15 Mass. And that she accomplished all of this in a tiny rectangle of a 1958 kitchen, on a tiny rectangle of turquoise enamel kitchen table partly covered with a well floured, old cotton tablecloth I still have. It’s there, in the photo.
When my kids were old enough, Mom enlisted their help. My son, Chris, could whip that macaroni stick around like a pro when he was only eight. My daughter, Emily, picked up hand rolling as well and, inspired to a large extent by my mother, subsequently received her professional chef’s certification from the Culinary Institute of America.
These are glorious memories. One of my great regrets is that we have no photos of Mom in the kitchen, doing these ordinary-but-extraordinary things that made our lives so rich.
But back to Laura Schenone. Given my love of ravioli, how could I have passed up, on a Saturday stroll through Barnes and Noble, a book with the irresistible title, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken? Her family’s Genoese ravioli are different than our Southern Italian version—she uses a meat and cheese filling you’ll hear about in the video. Her quest to duplicate the taste and texture of her childhood, told within the context of a soul-searching memoir, is a satisfying detective story on multiple levels, beautifully told. And it’s an eye-opener for all of you who’ve said a thousand times, “It’s good, but it doesn’t taste like my mother’s.”
I’ve bought the book as a gift for friends and family maybe half a dozen times. You should read it, too. With Laura’s permission, I’m including her engaging and wonderfully instructive video; you’ll hear a short version of her story as she demonstrates how to hand roll pasta dough.
Laura Schenone’s first book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, is a James Beard Award winner and a fascinating history of women “in the kitchen.” I highly recommend it, as well. Her newest book is due out later this year.
.Video used with permission.
Popovers, which more or less are individual Yorkshire puddings without the beef drippings for flavor, or “toad in the hole” without the sausage, are pure magic. And, because they’re hollow inside, they’re light as the proverbial feather.
Truthfully, as lovely as they are, they’re very easy to make. You just need to allow yourself enough time, most of which is for resting and baking, and to have a free hot oven so that you can serve them the minute you call everyone to the table. They’re the perfect addition to make a simple supper elegant, amiable companions to any luncheon salad, and to die for at breakfast, with butter and honey or jam.
You can make popovers perfectly well in a muffin tin; but a few years ago, I treated myself to a popover pan on a trip to King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT—which, as you may know by now, is my happy place. You can buy the popover pan online; a box of the KAF mix is free with the pan purchase. I should tell you, however, that I eschew mixes of all sorts. What’s the fun of baking if you don’t get to use those cute little measuring spoons and spray flour all over the counter? To each his/her own, of course.
Click here for the KAF recipe. Just remember never to open the oven door while they’re baking, and you should have no problem.
While there have been and will continue to be numerous entertaining diversions along the way, the crux of this blog is about retired life. Not having to go to work every day and being able to call your own shots is a BIG deal. While some people just slip right into their new normal life; others struggle with the change.
Getting off to a good start just makes sense. This means making as clean a break a possible with your work life. Some of what follows may sound a bit strident, but I believe that the reasoning is sound. Retiring, in a way, is like starting a new job; it requires the same disciplined shift in focus.
For the sake of your own dignity and professionalism, as well as a courtesy to your employer and your colleagues, you will have left everything at work in good order, so that any questions were addressed before you’re actually went out the door. If you are called or emailed a few times, that’s a reasonable nod to your skill and experience; but if the calls and emails from your workplace persist after you’ve left, stop responding. It’s time to sever that electronic leash that’s driven you crazy all these years. Somebody else is getting paid to wear it now.
Take a vacation, even a short one, as soon after retirement day as possible—preferably, to a new place, one you’ve always wanted to visit. This will not only put some distance between your new reality and your last, possibly emotional, days on the job, but also will signify the start of your new chapter. Don’t put off traveling; there may be a time when you are not up to it, and you don’t want to live with regret.
Be prepared, when you get back from that vacation, to give some very serious attention to what you intend to do with the rest of your life. It’s fine to lollygag for the first few months (see my previous post, “Take your time”); but eventually, with 50 books read, 15 hats knitted, and enough cupcakes in the freezer to feed three nursery school classes, you will run out of things to do. [Male readers, those were comments mostly aimed at women. Stereotypical, I know, but that’s the kind of thing that my women friends—even those of us who’ve had high-powered jobs—do in our spare time, partly because we rarely could before. You guys know that you can only rearrange the garage so many times, or play golf more than seven days a week, right?]
If you have a few really treasured friends at work, you will surely miss them and want to see them socially on occasion. That’s great. But it will be important, when you do, to give the conversation a direction other than how things are going at work. If you succumb to the temptation to talk about work, especially while retirement is still new, you’ll feel “needed” and get sucked right back in emotionally. Nothing good can come of hearing what the revisionists have been up to, or the mistakes that have been made, or the clients won or lost, or even the latest gossip.
If you are not moving anywhere, which is another very big ball of wax to be addressed in future posts, take a serious look at your home environment. For lo, these many years, it’s been well suited to your not being there 24/7. If you’re going to be home most of the time, it follows that your environment should be welcoming, comfortable, attractive, and suited to your new needs. Revisit how you use your space. You may have had a home office equipped for working virtually. Would it better serve you now as a library or craft room or den or man cave? Even if you maintain it as office space, think about repainting and adding some new touches.
If you and your spouse are on the same retirement timetable, have an honest talk about how you will handle 24/7 togetherness (see my previous post, “A thought on togetherness”). No doubt you’ve been looking forward to more time together; but trust me, you will both be feeling your way through the fog for a while and will need to find ways to respect each other’s personal space.
Taking work out of the daily life equation changes all of your existing relationships in some way. You may have some re-creating to do—for example, with extended family, friends, and neighbors. You no longer have excuses for refusing a dinner invitation because you don’t have time or have to go to work the next day, which could be good or bad, depending. Plus, you should deliberately seek new friends, and some of them should be younger (see my previous post, “On broadening your circle of friends”).
Photo: Looking out over the Mediterranean from Monterosso al Mare, in the Cinque Terre.
I am one of those annoying people who would photograph almost anything, given the chance and a patient companion.
“Stuff” wears out. Dishes break, linens grow threadbare, furniture sags. The extraordinary memories of your travels, near and far, will stay. And with photos, you can call them up any time you need to—to share a story, evoke a knowing smile, inject a little energy into a droopy Tuesday, or pull yourself out of a funk.
The integration of the cell phone into virtually every moment of our lives has many, many drawbacks. The ease with which you can photograph people, places, and things you love is not among them.
Photo: A Florence moment, in the courtyard of the magical Hotel Monna Lisa. Yes, in Italian, it’s two n’s.